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South Canyon Fire

William Teie Report to OSHA — 1994

6 Minutes for Safety — 2009

Fire Behavior Report, 1998

Cover & Dedication

Executive Summary & About the Authors

Preface & Contents


Fire Behavior Overview

Fire Environment

Fire Chronology

Fire Behavior Discussion



Appendix A

Appendix B

Appendix C

Report of the South Canyon Fire Accident Investigation Team, August 17, 1994


Today's discussion is from
“This Day in Wildland Fire History”

“Lessons Learned” serve as brief summaries of powerful learning opportunities. You can use these summaries as a foundation and launch point for further dialogue and discussion. Apply these lessons learned to yourself, your crew, and your unit.

South Canyon Fire, Colorado, 1994  (A Four-Part Series)

Incident Summary: On July 2, 1994, seven miles west of Glenwood Springs, Colo., lightning ignites a Bureau of Land Management fire in pinyon-pine juniper on a ridge at the base of Storm King Mountain. The fire, paralleled by two deep canyons, is initially believed to have “little chance” to spread. The past two days, lightning has started 40 new fires on this BLM District. The entire general area, in a one-year drought, is experiencing low humidities and record-high temperatures. Over the next two days, the South Canyon Fire increases in size. Visible from Interstate 70 and nearby residential areas, the public becomes concerned. Some initial attack resources are assigned. Between July 3-6, the fire grows to approximately 2,000 acres. On July 6, a dry cold front moves into the fire area. As winds and fire activity increases, the fire makes several 100-foot flame-length rapid runs within the existing burn—in dense, highly flammable Gambel oak. Fourteen firefighters perish as they try to outrun the flames. The remaining 35 firefighters survive either by escaping down a deep drainage or by seeking a safety area and deploying their fire shelters.

July 4 – Summary of Activities

Today this BLM District has five new fire starts. Two exceed 100 acres. In addition, 31 existing fires remain uncontrolled.

Across the district, fire danger continues to be high to extreme. More lightning is forecast for this evening. Red flag warnings have been issued.

For this area’s current intense, multiple fire load, radio communication is inadequate. It is recognized that this could pose a problem for the safe and effective use of aircraft.

Due to concerns voiced from Glenwood Springs residents, the South Canyon Fire—burning up on Storm King Mountain—receives a higher priority for receiving firefighting resources.

At 6:30 p.m. an Incident Commander, BLM engine crew, and Forest Service firefighters meet at the bottom of the mountain down beneath the fire.

Due to the approaching darkness and steep terrain, the decision is made to hike up to attack the fire the next morning.

Later that evening, an aerial observer reports: The fire is in steep and inaccessible terrain. It is actively burning in all directions. The area is too steep for crews. It has few, if any, escape routes. Helicopters with buckets would be very effective.

From noon to 10 p.m. the fire grows from 3 to 11 acres.


Lessons Learned
Discussion Points

If your fire crew was assigned to hike up to the fire on Storm King Mountain, how would you:

  • Address the inadequate radio communications for ground and aviation resources.

  • Appropriately mitigate an unacceptable level of risk. (Reference page 1 in your IRPG for this discussion.)

  • Determine when and how to refuse risk. (Reference pages 20-21 in your IRPG for this discussion.)

What would you be thinking about as a Crew Boss, Squad Boss, or Firefighter?



“This Day in Wildland Fire History” is a collaborative project between
“6 Minutes for Safety” and the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center.

<<< continue reading—South Canyon Fire, 6 Minutes for Safety, July 5 >>>





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