20th Anniversary of South Canyon Fire - ABC FOX MONTANA NEWS, WEATHER, SPORTS - KTMF/KWYB

20th Anniversary of South Canyon Fire

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Just more than 20 years ago the South Canyon Fire in Colorado took the lives of 14 firefighters. The fire was a turning moment for firefighters and wild land agencies.

"I'm a survivor of the South Canyon Fire of 1994," said Tony Petrilli.

To this day, Petrilli has a hard time talking about the South Canyon Fire of 1994 that killed 14 firefighters on Storm King Mountain in Colorado.

"It's a situation no firefighter wants to be in, a sometimes tough to share the story," Petrilli said.

12 firefighters, and two other helitack firefighters perished when they were unable to outrun the blaze after it crossed the fire line.

"The South Canyon Fire has been a pretty pivotal moment in firefighting and the wild land agencies," Petrilli said.

He now works at the Missoula Technology and Development Center, which works to create new technologies for the U.S. Forest Service to improve safety for all workers.

"It's definitely put safety for firefighters more in front in their own minds, as well as how to manage fires," Petrilli said.

One of the main changes made after the fire is the design of the fire shelter, which Petrilli helped to design.

"It increased level of protection quite a bit from the old style," Petrilli said.

Up until 2002 the fire shelters had a triangular shapes. Now the shape and materials are different, and there's an extra layer of material.

 "It performs well in a radiant heat environment," Petrilli said.

The new shelter has saved 21 lives since 2003. After more than 19 firefighters died after using their smoke shelter's in the Yarnell Hill Fire last year, a review committee is already working to make further improvements on the fire shelters.

"A lot of safety changes have been made in last 20 years, and we'll keep making improvements into the future," Petrilli said.

The review committee is going to start looking for ways to make a safer smoke shelter. They said if they do find a way to make changes, an updated shelter will be released by 2017.

 

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