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30th anniversary of Storm King 14 highlights changes to wildland firefighting

The statue in Two Rivers Park in Glenwood Springs memorializes the Storm King 14, and tells the story of the fire.
Caroline Llanes
Aspen Public Radio
The statue in Two Rivers Park in Glenwood Springs memorializes the Storm King 14, and tells the story of the fire.

This weekend marks 30 years since the South Canyon Fire on Storm King Mountain, just west of Glenwood Springs.

14 wildland firefighters died — making it one of the deadliest fires for firefighters in U.S. history.

Bryan Scholz was the assistant boss of the Prineville Hotshots, which lost nine of its members 30 years ago.

He said as a result of the fatalities, there were improvements to safety and procedure for firefighters, like a standardized procedure for briefing crews on fire information.

“And that was because… for the Prineville Hotshot crew, our briefing into Colorado and into the South Canyon Fire was pretty much nonexistent,” he said. “Not an uncommon situation.”

He said some good changes to the firefighting profession came out of the tragedy, like standardized fireline briefings and more rigorous leadership training.

“And there's also a standardized format on how to refuse risk, how to turn down an assignment, how to renegotiate an assignment,” he said. “The standardized format presents a way for grown ups to talk to each other and talk things out. Get on the same plane and make a different plan when the fire requires it.”

The Storm King Memorial Trail takes hikers and runners up to the place where the fire took place, and Scholz said fire crews across the country visit the site for training.

He said it’s a comfort to survivors and families that the memorial trail on Storm King Mountain and the statue at Two Rivers Park are so well-visited by Glenwood Springs residents.

There will be a memorial ceremony for the Storm King 14, for families, survivors, and the public at 4 p.m. on Saturday, July 6 at Two Rivers Park.

The city is asking folks to avoid the trail on Saturday to give survivors and families space to visit.

Caroline Llanes is a general assignment reporter at Aspen Public Radio, covering everything from local governments to public lands. Her work has been featured on NPR. Previously, she was an associate producer for WBUR’s Morning Edition in Boston.