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Storm King: Remembering the 1994 South Canyon fatality fire

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Storm King: Remembering the 1994 South Canyon fatality fire

I was half asleep when my squad boss handed out copies of U.S. Forest Service report RMRS-RP-9. He rattled the table as he walked by, and all four rookie hotshots sat up straight, yawning. We’d practiced cutting line all morning, and had eaten a big lunch. It was a hot afternoon, and the airless meeting room of the Fire Cache made it hard to stay focused on learning.I looked down at the title of the report. USFS Fire Behavior Report, 1998: Fire Behavior Associated with the 1994 South Canyon Fire on Storm King Mountain, Colorado.

One of our squad bosses walked to the front of the room. Alex held his hat in his hands, squeezing the the bill of the cap. Alex set down his hat and looked straight at us. “I was a member of the Prineville hotshot crew in 1994. We were coming back from fighting some fires in California, and they sent us to Colorado,” he began, than had to stop to clear his throat. “It was supposed to be a break for us,” Alex said. “It was just this little fire burning near Glenwood springs. No big deal. They didn’t even send anyone out to do a size-up until it had been burning for a couple of days. And then they asked us to go and take care of it.”

Over the next half hour, Alex described what had happened on the fire. He calmly and unemotionally led us through the USFS report, pointing out which of the 10 Standard Firefighting Orders and the 18 Watch Out! Situations were ignored. He described how little time the fire crews actually had to escape from the oncoming fire front: from the time the firefighters realized the fire was just 270 feet away and started running, it took just 10-15 seconds for the fire to reach them. Ultimately, 14 firefighters were lost in the blaze, including 9 of the 19 member Prineville Hotshot crew.

Reading the USFS report on Storm King changed the way I approached my job, and wildland fire. I learned the Standard Firefighting Orders and the Watch Out Situations by heart, and no matter how tired I am, I make sure to always stay alert and aware whenever I am on the fire ground.

Photo copyright 2004 Rachel C Smith All Rights Reserved

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Today in Wildfire History: 1941 840 acre blaze in Japan claims the lives of 18 firefighters

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Today in Wildfire History: 1941 840 acre blaze in Japan claims the lives of 18 firefighters

Construction workers using fire to reduce weeds and leaf litter on a job site at Kure, in Western Honshu, Japan, on April 27, 1941. The fire escaped their control and burned rapidly through a field of dried weeds into a forested area beyond. Firefighters working on extinguishing the blaze were  trapped and overrun by flames when the wind shifted. 18 firefighters died that day. The fire burned for another day, eventually being contained at 840 acres.

Photo credit: Rachel C. Smith 2004 All rights reserved

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Today in Wildland Fire History: 1994 Galápagos Island blaze endangers sea turtles, burns 1200 hectares

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Today in Wildland Fire History: 1994 Galápagos Island blaze endangers sea turtles, burns 1200 hectares

On April 11, 1994, a forest fire ignited on Isabela Island, part of the Galápagos National Park of Ecuador. A long drought and scant firefighting resources allowed the wildfire to grow swiftly, endangering unique local flora and fauna such as theGalápagos Giant Tortoise. Because Isabela Island is 1000 km from the mainland, all firefighting and relief supplies had to come in by plane or boat, creating long delays. By April 19th, the blaze had reached 1200 hectares in size. Ecuador’s President declared a State of Emergency, and local authorities had to evacuate a colony of Giant Tortoises. With help from Canada and the United States, firefighters prevented the fire from spreading to Isabela Island’s northwestern coast and saved the Giant Tortoises.

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