Honoring heroes for 20 years


The Hotshot Memorial Run will feature additional festivities to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Colorado fire that took the lives of nine Prineville firefighters in 1994

by: CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Runners in a previous Hotshot Memorial Run pass by a memorial erected in Ochoco Creek Park in memory of the nine Hotshot firefighters who lost their lives in Colorado in 1994.

On July 6, 1994, nine Prineville Hotshot firefighters lost their lives in Colorado.

The following summer, the Hotshot Memorial Run was created as a way to honor their memory and raise money for the families of fallen firefighters.

Over the two decades that followed, the run has endured and this weekend, community members are invited to help celebrate its 20th anniversary.

The run will feature a 5K run/walk and 10K run, as well as a Kids Fun Run, but this event will also include additional festivities to celebrate the occasion.

“There is going to be more of a ceremony after the race,” said Lisa Clark, public affairs specialist for the Prineville Bureau of Land Management district. “There will be music, a barbecue, and they will be doing an actual commemorative event. My understanding is we will have either family or survivors from the original crew that will be there.”

Lightning started the South Canyon Fire that would take the lives of the Prineville Hotshots four days later. The fire grew due to drought conditions combined with low humidity and record-high temperatures, and on that tragic day, a cold front moved into the area that made the fire run up a drainage beneath the firefighters working above. Though 35 escaped, 14 could not outrun the flames, including nine from Prineville.

Clark was a firefighter at the time of the tragedy. She was not fighting that particular fire, but knew some of the people who perished that day.

“People knew each other from fitness, through the firefighter community,” she said, “so they have been, and continue to be, a really tightknit organization.”

Sharon McPhetridge and Lori Goodman, with Prineville Athletic Club, knew many of the fallen firefighters as well.

“Most of the Hotshots worked out down here with us,” McPhetridge recalls. “When the tragedy came, we just wanted to help the families.”

They therefore joined forces with other local residents, including Bill Cooley and Marv Kelso, father of one of the fallen Hotshots, to launch the Memorial Run in 1995.

“Not knowing one single thing about how to put on a run, we learned quickly and had a giant turnout,” McPhetridge said of the inaugural event. “Then, we kept perfecting it and it just got bigger and better.”

McPhetridge and Goodman coordinated the Memorial Run for 14 years before relinquishing control of the event. This year’s races will be overseen by RunningWildfire.org and promoted by Ochoco National Forest and Prineville BLM. The proceeds will once again benefit the Wildland Firefighter Foundation, which supports the families of fallen firefighters.

After 20 years, the run has not lost momentum, drawing hundreds for each event. Clark hopes that this year, they will attract even more participants to help honor the Prineville Hotshots and their families.

“It is recognizing the past, remembering the past,” she said, “but looking to the future.”

The 20th annual Prineville Hotshot Memorial Run will be held on May 10, at Ochoco Creek Park. The run includes a 5K run/walk and 10K run, with a mass start at 10 a.m. The Kids Fun Run will follow at 11:15 a.m. An awards ceremony, barbecue, commemorative events will begin at 11:30 a.m.