Associated Press, 07-06-2004
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — Parents and children of the 14 firefighters killed when a wildfire exploded and trapped them on Storm King mountain 10 years ago returned to the site of the tragedy on Tuesday to remember their loved ones.
“It’s kind of bittersweet, but it’s nice to see the other families,” said Kathy Brinkley, whose son Levi died in the fire.
“It’s fun looking at the things he was climbing, but it is a little sad, too,” said Andy Tyler, 11, whose father Rich Tyler was among the victims.
The loss of life resulted in a top-to-bottom review of how wildfires are fought. A study of changes since then, released last week, found that deaths of firefighters on the fire lines had declined 42 percent. It said firefighters who once may have felt invincible now have a “passion for safety.”
Tuesday was a chance “to remember the sacrifice and renew acquaintances we made during those unhappy days,” said Bob Zanella, who was mayor at the time of the tragedy.
“We need to take the time to remember and fulfill our commitment not to forget them,” said Zanella, chairman of the group organizing the 10th anniversary event.
“Their actions need to be remembered,” said Chris Cuoco, the weather forecaster whose warning of high winds likely never reached the firefighters. “When a tragedy like this happens there is so much introspection and review and investigation that we must focus on the people who were lost.”
Also in town were the current Prineville Hotshots, whose Oregon crew lost nine members to the fire.
Randy Dunbar, whose son Doug died in the fire, was happy to see them. Officials had considered dismantling the crew after nine members died.
“The crew in my mind is the greatest legacy to those who died. If it had dismantled, it would have seemed like they had all perished,” Dunbar said.
From a spot high on a trail up Storm King Mountain, Dunbar said he felt a mix of powerful emotions. “I was pretty proud of Doug,” said Dunbar, a 35-year Forest Service veteran who fought many wildfires.
Jose Louie Navarro, a current member of the Prineville Hotshots, said being at the place where 14 others died did not bother him.
“It’s part of my life. It’s part of what I am,” he said.
“There’s a tremendous amount of pride in being a member of the Prineville Hothots,” Navarro said.
Congressman Scott McInnis, who helped remove bodies from the hill the day after the fire, said he never gets tired of telling the victims’ families how much the community appreciates their sacrifices.