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Wildfire Tragedy on Storm King Mountain - The South Canyon Fire Explained

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Conditons leading up to the fire...
Wildfire Tragedy on Storm King Mountain - The South Canyon Fire Explained

South Canyon Estates

Steve Nix
I walked, hiked and photographed this tragic battlefield where 14 firefighters lost their lives "protecting" others personal property. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) controls the land where the South Canyon Fire started. No timber of significant value was threatened. A series of miscommunications and poor leadership escalated an already bad situation to a tragic end.

A disaster was in the making when a red flag warning was issued by a National Weather Service forecaster on Saturday, July 2, 1994 from an office in Grand Junction, Colorado. Drought, high temperatures, low humidity and electrical storms caused thousands of "dry" lightning strikes across western Colorado over the next several days. Many of these dry strikes started wildfires.

On July 3, lightning ignited a fire 7 miles west of Glenwood Springs, Colorado. The fire was reported from a resident of Canyon Creek Estates (A) to the BLM as being in the South Canyon, later to be located nearer the base of Storm King Mountain. The small fire was in a remote area and several ridges away from any private property. It could be seen from I-70 (B), the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railway and the Colorado River (C).

With dozens of new fires burning, the BLM District started setting priorities for initial attack. Highest priority assigned to fires threatening lives, residences, structures, utilities, and to fires with the greatest potential for spread. The South Canyon fire did not make the priority list.

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