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Saturday marks Storm King Mountain anniversary

10:16 AM, Jul 6, 2013   |    comments
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KUSA - Saturday is the 19th anniversary of the Storm King Mountain tragedy.

Fourteen firefighters died while fighting the South Canyon Fire on Storm King Mountain near Glenwood Springs on July 6, 1994.

Until this past week, it was one of the deadliest wildland fires in our nation's history.

On Sunday, A hot shot team of 19 firefighters died in Arizona.

9NEWS Reporter Vida Urbonas spoke with Dr. Lloyd Burton Ph.D, a professor from the University of Colorado Denver who is an expert on wildland fires.

He says, after Storm King Mountain, there was a complete transformation of Federal firefighting protocols.

"Starting in 1995, the most important thing in wildland firefighting in the Federal service is preservation of human life. The life of firefighters and anyone else in areas," said Dr. Burton.

Burton says the government now won't deploy crews unless certain things are in place, like an identifiable safe zone where hot shot crews can move into, a direct escape route from line of fire into safe zone, continuous weather conditions being reported to the men and women on the ground, and a spotter monitoring behavior on ground.

But this past week, 19 firefighters were killed in Arizona.

Burton says the similarities between storm king and Arizona, are too familiar.

"Steep terrain, erratic winds, unpredictable fire behavior and entire hot shot crew wiped out," Burton said.

Burton's theory of what might have contributed to this deadly fire, is the hot shot crews usually travel cross country to fires.

"This fire started just down the hill from where the Hotshots live," Burton said.

He says they are extremely dedicated people who where fighting on their own turf.

"They were trying to save the homes of their neighbors and friends. It was their land. It's conceivable they may have fought a little closer in. They may not have left as early as they would in other circumstances," Burton said.

Dr. Burton also says those are just his thoughts. That a tragedy of this magnitude warrants an unbiased, careful investigation.

He also says the survival of the only firefighter was critical. He can tell the story of what he saw on that mountain.

(KUSA-TV © 2013 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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