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

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Smokejumpers and the Prineville Hotshots take over...
Wildfire Tragedy on Storm King Mountain - The South Canyon Fire Explained

The Fatal Fireline

On the morning of July 6, the BLM/Forest Service crew returned to the fire and worked with the smokejumpers to clear a second helicopter landing area called Helispot 2 (HS-2). Later that morning eight more smokejumpers parachuted to the fire just north of HS-2 and were assigned to build a fireline starting on the west flank through thick Gambel oak (F).

Ten Prineville Interagency Hotshot Crew members from Prineville, Oregon, still fresh from another fire just fought, were reactivated and rushed to Colorado's Storm King Mountain. Nine members of the crew joined the smokejumpers in line construction. Upon arrival, one member of the hotshot crew was selected and sent to help reinforce the fireline on the ridge top. His life was spared.

The underburned Gambel oak they had to work in was significant in that it did not provide a safety zone for the crew to use. The green-leaved oak looked safe but could explode when superheated. It could and probably did lull crew members into a sense of false security.

Steep topography, the thick and flammable vegetation that limited visability and a wind (that nearly blew me off the observation point) increasing during the early afternoon, collectively conspired to cause a fire storm that would kill more firefighters than any wildfire had in the last century.

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