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Hamilton man among those remembered on 25th anniversary of deadly wildfire

Posted at 10:46 PM, Jul 05, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-06 00:51:50-04

MISSOULA – 14 firefighters were killed in Colorado exactly 25 years ago Saturday on Storm King Mountain near Glenwood Springs. One of the firefighters killed that day was Don Mackey of Hamilton.

“There will be time to find the answers. Today we must join in sympathy and solidarity with the family of Don Mackey and all the victims of this fire,” said Montana Sen. Max Baucus from the U.S. Senate floor in July 1994.

When the South Canyon Fire blew up on July 6, 1994, the crew was trapped by fire and couldn’t outrun it. Still, Don was able to get eight smokejumpers to a safe zone, rushing back into the fire several times to lead them out.

But while he saved lives that day, he paid the ultimate price — along with 13 of his fellow crew members. His courage even inspired a TV movie called “Smoke Jumpers.”

Don started firefighting in 1984 in the Bitterroot National Forest, becoming a hotshot and then a Missoula smokejumper. He left behind a wife and two children.

On a website dedicated to those lost, it’s said that Don died doing what he did best: fighting fires. His loyalty and concern for his fellow firefighters will always be remembered.

These were the first smokejumpers lost since the Mann Gulch Fire near Helena in 1949 exactly 70 years ago this summer.

Officials plan to drop 14 purple streamers from airplanes honoring the victims on Saturday. There will also be a small event for family and friends of those lost. The U.S. Forest Service plans to hold a short news conference at the site.

-Reported by Jill Valley/MTN News