“Everyone goes home” – stories from Storm King Mountain

Interviewees South Canyon Fire

Every wildland firefighter should see this video.

It includes numerous interviews of wildland firefighters who were involved with, or were on scene during the entrapment and deaths of 14 firefighters on the 1994 South Canyon Fire on Storm King Mountain in Colorado.

With criminal charges being thrown around following mistakes made on fires in recent years, it is extraordinary to see firefighters speak so freely about a disaster that occurred on a wildland fire. The people being interviewed deserve a great deal of credit and praise for their participation.

Some of the opportunities for lessons learned include:

  • You are responsible for your own safety.
  • Take care of your fellow firefighters.
  • If you see something, say something.
  • Question decisions if they have the potential to adversely affect your safety.
  • Downhill line construction can be very dangerous.
  • Be a student of fire.
  • Know your fire orders, fire situations, and LCES (lookouts, communications, escape routes, and safety zones).
  • Maintain situational awareness. Trust your instincts and be aware of your surroundings at all times.
  • Leadership and safety start at the ground level.

There were other lessons learned as well. What stood out to you?

None of this is earthshakingly new information. Experienced firefighters have heard it all before, but not necessarily from people who know very intimately WHY it is important.

The more you are exposed to this hard-earned knowledge, especially when it comes from survivors, it may actually stick. And new firefighters can’t hear it enough.

The firefighters who died on the South Canyon fire were:

  • Prineville Hotshots: Kathi Beck, Tamera Bickett, Scott Blecha, Levi Brinkley, Douglas Dunbar, Terri Hagen, Bonnie Holtby, Rob Johnson, Jon Kelso.
  • Missoula Smokejumper: Don Mackey
  • McCall Smokejumpers: Roger Roth, Jim Thrash.
  • Helitack: Robert Browning, Jr., Richard Tyler.

The video is available at YouTube, and can be downloaded at Everyone Goes Home.

Interviewees South Canyon Fire
A screen grab from the video, showing some of the people featured in interviews.

More information about the South Canyon Fire:

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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.

9 thoughts on ““Everyone goes home” – stories from Storm King Mountain”

  1. Is it possible the Granite Mountain Hotshots viewed this video in the weeks before their deaths?

  2. It is sad and tragic that the factors that endanger wildland firefighters are known and, for the most part, taught to, studied and acknowledged by the firefighters.
    While we need to work on supervision and leadership to ensure knowledge keeps flowing to the field people, I see a couple more issues that are harder to overcome:
    1. Limited field experience to internalize all the training that is given. A few seasons and then move on is part of the wildland experience. It takes time to gain the experience needed to read fire well.
    2. Contextual differences. With our very mobile firefighting forces, you risk diminishing the value of training and local experience by moving forces into totally different fuel types, topography and local weather patterns. In some cases this happens in a few hours without much intelligence or briefing and no local guides.
    This sort of problem usually happens in the first 72 hours of inital attack ops.
    I am not sure what the answer is for this set of challenges. But anyone in the field should be aware and consider how to be safe.

  3. Watching this video now hurts even more. Look at that list of lessons. If you were not told otherwise, you would almost think it was a list of lessons from Yarnell Hill.

  4. Great video….good job. I am a songwriter and retired wildland and structural fire fighter from Colorado. I am producing a song/video as tribute to the Storm King firefighters and all wildland firefighters. If you have any interest in receiving a copy or a link to the youtube listing, please email me. Thank You

  5. Started In Wildland back in 1984, then on to UFSF Bear Divide , Horsehoe Meadow Hotshots and Chantry Helishots. In 1999 my younger brother wanted to join the USFS, so I took him on a road trip from Cali to Glenwood Springs, Co , not telling him as we hiked up the west canyon towards the crosses, as we neared I noticed some of the brush had grown back at about 4-5 ft tall. We finally made it to the site and I remember my brothers face when he saw the granite markers , and then I shared with him the story of that tragic day. Its 2013 and my brother is still with the USFS Angeles National Forest Im proud of him and every groundpounder who puts on the Nomex. We will never forget!

  6. Just learned today of the loss of Robert on the Storm King Mountain fire in 1994. OMG I can’t tell you the loss…..He and I visited the Ochoco Inn as he rested from his day, I wont tell you how young he was or how young i was. Just know the hell raising you heard about in Prineville from 87-89…..gonna miss him the red headed fireball…….definitely a shooting star died doing what he loved…….Don’t think I din’t try to talk him out of it, kinda like a son to me back then…….I am stricken in my heart, all my sympathy, and heartfelt condolences…

  7. I am an wildland instructor in Nebraska. I am currently doing the Red Card recerts. in my area. This a powerful presentation I will use this in my classes and will try to make this a must see for all wildland fire fighters I come in contact with. Thank you so much for bring it to this sight.

  8. Just got done watching this. Now I’m downloading it to show every member of our Dept. EVERY FIREFIGHTER should watch this! Does not matter if your structure OR Wildland. EVERYONE GOES HOME! We thank you for your sacrifice, you will never be forgotten.


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