ON THIS DAY … 1994 and 2014

A little note and a little request — by Patrick Carnahan
 ~~ July 5, 2014
Still can’t believe we are only hours away from marking the 20-year anniversary of the fire on Storm King Mountain. I’m now 12 miles away from the parking lot I was in when Paul Harvey told us we’d just lost 14 firefighters on the mountain.
Patrick Carnahan photo
Patrick Carnahan photo

Our strike team had orders to go to that fire and we got stopped leaving camp and re-routed to another fire. We drove 3 times as long to fight another fire as it would’ve taken us to be on the South  Canyon Fire. We reached our assignment just as the flames were crossing the road into a remote community and we fought fire for the next 14 hours. Lost a wooden deck but no structures.

I remember everything in sight that night was on fire; it looked like hell, and there was no place else any of us would choose to be. Had about 4 hours of sleep and the first hot meal in 6 days when we got the news. Nobody really said anything at the time. We all understood we should’ve been on that mountain. Spent the next 5 days in a haze of smoke and flames before we were demobed. I have lost a couple of friends since then and many more I never had the opportunity to share the line with. Glad that the ignorance of youth was not wasted on me and I’m still here.

Asking that you all take a moment out of your day tomorrow and recognize those who never came off the line. Fire will always be a part of our reality and it will never be a job free of risk. When the next report hits the news about a wildland firefighter losing his or her life on a fire, please go here and make a difference:  The Wildland Firefighter Foundation.

Keep one foot in the black and stay safe out there. For those who have gone on, save me some line to work when the time comes.

And a revisit from a few years ago of one of Bill Gabbert’s best pieces:

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4 thoughts on “ON THIS DAY … 1994 and 2014”

  1. Yes, it can be said that Storm King was a true water shed moment for the wildland fire community, we were all impacted by this tradegy, 94 was a eventful fire season, there were as I recall many close calls* that year, I/we was on the Coffee Pot fire in NM (Shelter Deployment), very close call. There were others as well, Storm King shook us to our core, it took our very best away from us, that is very hard to process. After you have some time to process the events surrounding the tradegy you realize that they were conducting their business on that fire very much the same way it’s been done a thousand times, however there were many flagrant safety violations (10-18), were there mistakes, oh definiely there were many. But that’s all hindsight it always is, this fire in a lot of ways made sence, we knew why/how this happend, we learned from it, it changed everything and mostly for the better. Unlike another recent tragic loss of life fire where it made zero sence, very little closure. I hope we continue to revisit our history, it’s extreamly important that we remember out history because our future demands it. I for one will never forget Storm King….Never. I encourage everyone to review the investigative report, not perfect but well done.

    Mariah Fire, well said, our shot crew also spent some time in the geo area prior to storm king, mostly on the White River, similiar situation, shots and jumpers working together in the high country.

  2. Storm King in 1994, in my mind, was the tragedy that changed fire forever. It stopped being a light hearted and fun profession and got deadly serious.

    My experience was similar to Patrick’s. I was assist. crew supervisor of a Type 2IA crew from the Front Range that had been hopping from fire to fire that week in the GJ zone. There had been a couple lightning busts with dozens of new starts, and a couple that had gone big. Dispatch was overwhelmed, and communication was poor and dysfunctional between the local BLM zone office and the GJ Interagency Dispatch. We could see a couple columns in the distance capping out from a shitty little range fire we had IA’d.

    We got off that fire on the 4th of July, and went back to fire camp at the high school in Fruita. After showers and dinner, we were settling in on the football field and chilling while waiting to watch the fireworks. Soon somebody came around and told us to get our crew packed up and to our bus, we were being dispatched to a fire up by Glenwood that was just above I-70.

    While driving east on the highway, we got radioed by dispatch. They told us to divert to a new start and to report to DeBeque elementary school. We work some BLM fire north of DeBeque on July 5 & 6. While working on the afternoon of July 6, we could hear the BLM zone freq. blowing up. It was total chaos, and impacting our fire’s comms. Out of the traffic, we heard a helicopter say something about seeing shelters deployed. About then, Ops called us off the line. Driving back to camp, listening to radio traffic, the crew sup. and I looked at each other, and one of us said “you know, that was supposed to be us”. We learned a couple days later that in fact Prineville came in behind us and got sent there.

    I retired at the end of last season from going out as an AD. I knew Rich Tyler from my helitack days when we would get preposition out at GJ. South Canyon impacted me more than any fire before or after.


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