Prineville still remembers its fallen heroes
PRINEVILLE, Ore. – When Glenwood Springs residents gather to remember the 10th anniversary of the Storm King fire, the people of Prineville, Ore., are preparing for their own quiet remembrance of the fire that took nine of their own.Among the 14 firefighters killed near Glenwood Springs, nine were Prineville Hotshots, its 20-person crew nearly cut in half. Some came from families in the small central Oregon town, or nearby. But many in town considered the entire crew part of the Prineville family. They took into their hearts these young, elite firefighters who could often be seen on training runs through town in their royal blue uniforms.If residents here don’t dwell on the tragedy that hit the town a decade ago, they haven’t forgotten it. A Wildland Firefighters Monument, erected by families of the fallen, stands in downtown’s Ochoco Creek Park, where photos and biographies of the 14 Storm King victims sit on rocks among aspens. A path winds to a bronze sculpture by David Nelson, of Marble, depicting three firefighters in a snag.Once a year, residents come out for the Hotshot Memorial Run to raise money to maintain the monument and remember why it’s there. This year brought the highest number yet, 236 runners who brought in about $2,000.”You still remember them,” said Sharon McPhetridge, a co-owner and trainer at the Prineville Athletic Club and an organizer of the annual race. “You still talk about it. When there’s a fire, you still talk about it.”As McPhetridge spoke, the hotshot crew was busy training in her club. They trained there 10 years ago, too, she said, and when she heard the news it hit her hard. But it hit everyone hard, she said.”It’s a small town, so we just know everybody,” she said. “The families. The kids. It’s a small town.””One gal came in the other day and said, ‘I still remember where I was when I heard the news,'” McPhetridge said, glancing at her arm. “Look, I’m getting goosebumps just talking about it.” The Storm King tragedy is just one chapter in the hard years Prineville has seen. Set in a broad, flat valley dotted with pinon and juniper below sheer buttes and bordered by the Ochoco National Forest, Prineville, population 7,871, was once a thriving lumber mill town. But the lumber industry dwindled, due in part to the spotted owl protections. Now, the old Ochoco lumber mill is being turned into a commercial and residential development as Prineville finds new life with a wave of retirees fleeing urban areas for its mild climate, scenery and golf.After industry ebbed, the service industry has grown, with new restaurants and shops.Prineville is also home to tire retailer Les Schwab, its biggest employer, but the occasional lumber truck still rolls through town, past the 1909 courthouse and a half dozen drive-thru espresso stands.”We’ve got a lot of pride in the hotshots,” said Mayor Steve Uffelman said. “You talk about forest fires. Immediately, the Prineville Hotshots come to the forefront.”
In terms of area, it’s the county’s smallest conservation deal ever. In terms of location, it’s one of the county’s rarest acquisitions.