Autumn Hills fire included in Discovery program |

Autumn Hills fire included in Discovery program

by Jill Darby

The Autumn Hills fire of June 1996 will not be soon forgotten.

And those who have seen K-MTN owner Mike Conway’s terrifying coverage of the blaze know why.

That footage also made an impression on Discovery Channel’s “Storm Warnings” Producer Ted Bortolin.

Discovery will be running a five-part segment on severe weather phenomena, which will include a 10-minute reenactment of the Autumn Hills fire.

A Discovery crew was in town Friday for filming. With the help of Lake Valley and Forest Service firefighters who battled the blaze in 1996, the television crew recreated the scene on the east slope above Kingsbury Grade. Smoke machines added a realistic touch and a galvanized bar with holes drilled into it provided propane-fueled flames.

“Mike Conway’s story was out, regarding his experience and Discovery picked it up,” Lake Valley Fire Chief John Ceko said. “Their story is based on wind and the effects of extreme winds and fire.”

The plan is to use actual footage along with reenacted segments to re-create the disaster.

“We’ll be augmenting reality tape with a few reconstructions,” said Bortolin.

Fierce winds kept the fire going for three days. A sudden snow storm contributed to stopping it.

“It was the unpredictability of the winds that really drove that fire,” said Larry Trauner of the Lake Valley Fire District, who was acting captain at the fire.

“The snow is basically what put the fire out,” said Paul Tyler, an initial attack firefighter with the Forest Service, who was also at the scene.

“And there was some (intense) fire fighting out there. There were over 400 homes in the fire area and to have only four burn …. All the units from the lake were there.”

Tyler hopes that the reenactment will show people the dangers of fire.

“This is going to educate some people on what goes on out there,” Tyler said.

“And I have a message to the media: Get some basic wildland/fire training. You need to get educated. Most National Forests put on basic wildland/fire training classes and it will definitely behoove you if you’re going to be in these sorts of situations.”

According to Tyler, having the proper protective equipment is what saved Conway from serious injury as the fire burned over the top of him.

“You need to make sure you respond with all of the necessary personal protective equipment – a hard hat shroud, fire resistant pants and shirt, gloves and a fire shelter,” Tyler said. “The least amount of skin exposed is your ticket. Safety is paramount for everything.”

“Storm Warnings” will air sometime this summer on the Discovery Channel. This will be the second time Conway’s experience has been featured on a Discovery Channel program.

“I think it’s nice,” Ceko said. “It’s nice to show off our professionalism as a fire service. It boosts the morale of our members.”