Battlement Creek fire, 35 years ago today

Battlement fire map

Thirty-five years ago today three members of the Mormon Lake Hot Shot crew lost their lives on the Battlement Creek fire in Colorado between Grand Junction and Glenwood Springs. On July 17, 1976 a burnout operation initiated by a hot shot crew moved across a canyon and then up a steep slope overrunning the position of another crew, the Mormon Lake Hot Shots who were also burning out a section of fireline. Four of them were entrapped; only one survived, but with severe burns. The victims were Anthony A. Czak, Scott L. Nelson, and Stephen H. Furey.

From the accident report:

Apparently, neither crew knew of the specific location or assignment of the other.

The crew all wore aluminum hardhats, canvas vests, Nomex shirts and non-fire-resistant work pants. Fire shelters were not used. The report, which is surprisingly long, detailed, and thorough, states that fire shelters may have prevented serious burns and deaths. Policy on issuing and carrying shelters had not been established yet. This incident became the catalyst for the mandatory use of fire shelters and fire resistant clothing.

Morman Lake Hot Shots 1976It was unrelated to the three fatalities, but the day before, on July 16, 1976, a B-26 air tanker working on the fire crashed about one mile south of the fire.

Another interesting fact unrelated to the accident is Project Rulison, the site of an underground nuclear explosion, also about a mile south of the fire and about one-quarter mile from the “Main Fire Camp”.  Project Rulison was an experiment in 1969 which detonated a 40 kiloton nuclear bomb 8,500 underground. The project was co-funded by the government and a mining company to explore peaceful engineering uses of nuclear explosions, in this case, to determine if natural gas could be easily liberated from underground regions. After the explosion, a well was drilled into the chamber that was created, but the gas in the area was radioactive, making it unmarketable.

Project Rulison nuclear bomb
The nuclear bomb that was detonated 8,500 feet underground near the Battlement Creek fire. (Screen capture form declassified U.S. Nuclear Test Film #36.)

More info about the Battlement Creek Fire and Project Rulison:


Thanks go out to Dick

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

2 thoughts on “Battlement Creek fire, 35 years ago today”

  1. Bill thanks for remembering these firefighters who lost their life and this fire which as you pointed had many other problems too.

    1. Yes, there were many issues pointed out in the report. It’s the classic example of layers of swiss cheese leaving holes, eventually resulting in the unthinkable.


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