Twitter Buttons

Friday, July 6, 2012

In Memory: 14 firefighters killed on Colorado South Canyon Fire

In Memoriam - On July 6, 1994, 14 firefighters perished on the South Canyon Fire near Glenwood Springs, CO. The lightning-caused fire had been smoldering in frost-stressed gambel oak for several days when it came into alignment during the afternoon with a cold front-induced wind. The fire ran up a southwest slope and drainage, entrapping hotshots, smokejumpers, and helitack personnel.

On July 6, 1994, the South Canyon Fire caused the death of 14 firefighters, 7 miles west of Glenwood Springs, Colorado.
On July 2nd and 3rd dry lightning storms ignited 40 new fires in the Grand Junction District, including the South Canyon Fire. The District set priorities for initial attack with highest priority given to fires threatening life, residences, structures, utilities, and fires with greatest potential for spread. All firefighting resources on the Grand Junction District were committed to the highest priority fires; the South Canyon Fire was not one of the highest. On July 4th, there was a shortage of resources for initial attack throughout the western slope of Colorado.

Starting on July 5th initial attack and extended attack resources were assigned to the South Canyon Fire as they became available. During the first few days the fire spread by backing downhill, on July 6th the winds and fire activity began to increase. At 3:20 p.m. on July 6th a dry cold front moved across the fire area. At 4:00 p.m. the fire crossed the bottom of the West Drainage. It soon spotted back across the drainage to the east side beneath the firefighters and moved onto steep slopes and into dense, highly flammable drought-stressed Gambel Oak brush. Within seconds a wall of flame raced up the hill toward the firefighters on the west flank fireline. Failing to outrun encroaching flames, 12 firefighters perished in close proximity to the west flank fireline 240 feet below the ridge. Two helitack crew members on the top of the ridge also died when they tried to escape the fire to the northwest. The remaining 35 firefighters on the South Canyon Fire survived by escaping down the East Drainage or by deploying their fire shelters at another location.

The follow-up actions to the South Canyon Fire led to higher training standards, an increased emphasis on weather information and fire danger recognition, the study of human factors in wildland firefighting, and interagency standards for fire operations.

For more information, visit .

Twitter links

****REMINDER**** Every fire has the ability to be catastrophic. The wildland fire management environment has profoundly changed. Growing numbers of communities, across the nation, are experiencing longer fire seasons; more frequent, bigger, and more severe, fires are a real threat. Be careful with all campfires and equipment.
View blog top tags