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McKenzie River remembers (more)


South Canyon Fire, July 1994

Doug Dunbar

Do you remember a bright-eyed young man who played basketball and the saxophone for McKenzie High School, loved to ski, and cherished friends and family? The employees at McKenzie River Ranger District do. And every year they raise funds for the scholarship named in his honor – the Doug Dunbar Scholarship.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the South Canyon Fire near Glenwood Springs, Colorado and the day 22-year-old Doug was lost. On July 6, 1994, a dry cold front moved into the fire area, generating erratic winds and intense fire activity. The winds pushed the fire toward firefighters, overtaking them in seconds. While 35 fire fighters were able to escape and survive, 14 did not. Firefighters lost included members of the Prineville Inter-agency Hotshots, the Missoula Smoke Jumpers and a Helitack fire crew. Doug was working at the time for the Prineville crew, helping finance his schooling. He had started his firefighting career near his hometown, on the then Blue River Ranger District.

Following the tragedy, the McKenzie River Ranger District employees chose to honor his memory by establishing a scholarship at the McKenzie River High School. Doug had been active at his school; he was an honor student, all-star baseball player, and  award-winning  saxophonist. Every year since 1995, this scholarship has helped another active local high school student attend college.

As the 20th anniversary draws near, employees of the McKenzie River Ranger District, friends and co-workers reflect on Doug and how the scholarship has helped them deal with the incident.

“I remember the day on July 6, 1994. when I first heard about the tragedy on Strom King Mountain and the feeling of despair as we lost one of our own. I was the Fire Crew Leader at McKenzie River and we organized a 20-person crew to go “fill-in” for the Prineville Hotshots at their base while the communities, families, and friends dealt with the aftershock. I went to Storm King Mountain last summer for the first time and visited the site with several fire personnel (including one survivor of the fire) and we all reflected back on the people and event – the memorials, the fire line, the vegetation, the helispots, the ridgeline, the drainage. I still reflect back on that day often and remind my firefighters of the many lessons learned and how precious life is. I reflect back on Doug and his family – they were and still are a wonderful family …I will never forget.”  - Randy Harbick, Fire Management Officer, McKenzie River Ranger District

“I visited the South Canyon fire for the first time over a month ago. Each step climbing up the mountain I was struck by how fast 20 years has passed since that tragic day. I was also thinking about Doug and the many ways friends, family, former co-workers and the greater Forest Service family could remember and honor Doug. I believe that the Doug Dunbar scholarship is a wonderful way to remember and honor him. This scholarship investment in a young adult’s education and future helps us all be aspirational and gives hope for the future.” – John Allen, Deschutes National Forest Supervisor

“It has been an honor and a joy to raise money for the scholarship for the last 20 years. It gives employees a chance to remember Doug and also a reminder of how much we care about each other and the importance of looking out for one another’s safety so that we all come home to our families at the end of the day.” – Brenda Hamlow, Support Services Supervisor, McKenzie River Ranger District

“Losing any firefighter, and especially one from our own ranks, is so painful. My focus every day is on learning from the tragedies of the past and transforming pain into prevention. No one can bring Doug back, but the firefighting community honors him and the others we’ve lost by managing fires differently today than we did twenty years ago. We train with them in our hearts and the lessons they taught us on our minds.” – Sean Stafford, Fire Management Officer, Willamette National Forest

This year, employees will also be commemorating the event at the July 12th Emerald’s Game in Eugene, where a member of Doug’s family will throw the first pitch. In Glenwood Springs, local, state and federal wildland firefighters will hold a public commemoration  of the South Canyon Fire.  Information is available online at www.



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