Wild Fires in Glenwood Springs, Colorado
One of Glenwood Springs’ most tragic events occurred on July 6, 1994, when 14 firefighters perished as a wall of flames swept over them in a matter of seconds. The fire they were fighting began as a lightning strike a few days earlier on July 2, near the base of Storm King Mountain, just west of Glenwood Springs in South Canyon.
Storm King Fire
On July 5, firefighters and smoke jumpers were working together to create fire lines to contain the blaze, areas free of material that could fuel the fire and over which it was hoped the fire would not jump. On July 6, twenty Hotshots from Prineville, Oregon arrived in Glenwood to assist with the battle. That afternoon, a dry cold front with heavy winds passed through the area, fanning the flames and causing the blaze to jump the fire lines. By 4:00 PM, the fire had “spotted” beyond the fireline and below the firefighters’ location to the west and began to race towards them up the steep, densely vegetated terrain. Twelve firefighters were unable to outrun the blaze and perished. Two more helitack firefighters were also killed as they tried to flee to the northwest.
We honor the brave men and women who died that day protecting the homes and property of Glenwood Springs residents include:
Prineville Hotshots: Kathi Beck, Tami Bickett, Scott Blecha, Levi Brinkley, Douglas Dunbar, Terri Hagen, Bonnie Holtby, Rob Johnson and Jon Kelso
Missoula Smokejumper: Don Mackey
McCall Smokejumpers: Roger Roth and Jim Thrash
Helitack Crew: Rob Browning and Richard Tyler
There is a memorial at Two Rivers Park to honor each of the fallen firefighters from the Storm King Mountain Fire. It is a stopping place for firefighter crews passing through Glenwood Springs either en route to a fire or returning home. Visitors can also hike the rugged Storm King Memorial Trail; it is the same trail used by the doomed firefighters.
Glenwood Springs experienced another devastating fire on June 8, 2002. Instead of lightning, the cause of this fire dates back to Glenwood’s early mining history. The mountains from Glenwood Springs to New Castle contain vast repositories of coal, a highly explosive substance. In 1910, at the South Canyon Mine, due to unknown causes, a fire ignited in one of the mine shafts. Even though it was sealed off the fire continued to burn, and continues to burn in the mountain to this day. Fire officials and geologists regularly monitor the fire, but in June 2002, the fire breached the surface consuming 29 homes and more than 12,000 acres of land. Thousands of people were evacuated from West Glenwood Springs and Four Mile. Thanks to hard lessons learned in the South Canyon Fire, no one was killed or seriously injured in the Coal Seam Fire.
Grizzly Creek Fire
The blaze, dubbed the Grizzly Creek Fire, sparked around 1:30 p.m. on Aug. 10, 2020 near the Grizzly Creek Rest Area in Glenwood Canyon. It was determined to be human-caused, likely from a chain dragging on the highway or from a tossed cigarette butt. Fueled by hot, dry winds it spread quickly, crossing both the interstate and the Colorado River, effectively shutting down traffic for two weeks on Interstate-70. Due to its impact on east-west transportation, it was deemed one of the nation’s top fire fighting priorities with 873 firefighters allocated to battle the inferno. To help with containment and hot spots, air support included helicopters and DC-10 VLATs, the latter able to drop over 9,000 gallons of fire retardant in a single flight. Billows of towering smoke could be seen for weeks in Glenwood Springs and several nearby communities and neighborhoods were evacuated as a precaution. The Grizzly Creek Fire burned over 32,000 acres of land. Remarkably, Hanging Lake, a National Natural Landmark and a favorite Colorado hiking destination within a few miles of the origination point of the fire, was unharmed. The Grizzly Creek Fire was 100 percent contained on Dec. 18, 2020. Thanks to the efforts of firefighters from across the country, no lives or homes were lost.
Explore all of the historical things to do, learn and see in Glenwood Springs with a modern twist; there is something for everyone and a new adventure to be had every day! For more Glenwood Springs history, visit the Glenwood Springs Historical Society and Frontier Museum.