GLENWOOD SPRINGS - Relatives and friends of the 14 firefighters who died when a wildfire exploded and trapped them on Storm King Mountain in western Colorado 20 years ago returned to the site of the tragedy Sunday to remember their loved ones.
With a group of crosses serving as a backdrop on the hillside, Kenny Frost, a spiritual leader for the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, gave the blessing and sang to pay homage to the firefighters, who were killed in the blaze July 6, 1994.
A rapid change in weather created raging winds that fueled 100-foot flames, and the firefighters were unable to escape as the fire raced up a hillside.
"It was incredibly meaningful for my mom and dad to be here, and to make it up here (to the site of the crosses)," said Jim Roth, the older brother of Roger Roth, a member of the Prineville, Ore, Hot Shots who was among the firefighters killed that day.
Wally Roth, 81, made the hike up the fire line trail to the spot housing 12 of the 14 crosses, while Carol Roth, 78, took a helicopter ride to the ridgetop, The Glenwood Springs Post Independent reported. The helicopter was provided for those unable to do the hike.
"You look at how many people died here and then look at the ripple effect of family members it impacted," Jim Roth said, motioning to the many siblings, cousins, nieces and nephews who made the remembrance trip.
Safety standards for wildland firefighters were toughened after investigators found a number of errors in the way the blaze was fought. Now, firefighters cannot be deployed unless they have a safe place to retreat, and they must also be continuously informed of changing weather and post lookouts.