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Saturday, July 6, 1996 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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$23 Million Sought In Colorado Deaths Of 10 Smoke Jumpers

AP

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. - Relatives of 10 of the 14 firefighters killed on Storm King Mountain have filed wrongful-death claims, demanding $23 million from the U.S. Forest Service.

Some relatives and others plan to gather for a small ceremony honoring the firefighters today, the second anniversary of their deaths. Nine of those killed were Forest Service smoke jumpers based in Prineville, Ore.

"This is something I've wanted to file for a long time. The things the government has done to us as parents of Don, we have been totally disregarded as if we don't breathe air," said Nadine Mackey, mother of Missoula, Mont., smoke jumper Don Mackey.

The firefighters died July 6, 1994, when winds turned a small fire into a raging inferno that trapped them on the mountain west of Glenwood Springs.

The Forest Service says it will conduct an investigation.

Kathy Brinkley, mother of Levi Brinkley of Prineville, Ore., said: "It was by accident we even found out we could do it (file a claim). Almost all of the parents had talked to lawyers and the lawyers didn't even know about it."

Don Mackey's father, Bob, criticized the federal officials for failing to notify them of their rights.

"All that time and there was not a soul that ever came to help us and advise us," Bob Mackey said. "I feel I owe it to Don to do this . . . I owe Don to do everything possible to help his two kids."

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management was in charge of the fire, but the claims were filed with the Forest Service because the firefighters were Forest Service employees.

The claims allege that the BLM should have controlled the Storm King fire when it first broke out, and that firefighters assigned to it should have been given more resources. The fire was left to burn for two days, officials said, because all available equipment and firefighters were deployed fighting dozens of other fires.

Jeannie Holtby, mother of smoke jumper Bonnie Holtby, was among the parents who declined to file a claim.

"My personal feeling is, what happened happened, and if you put in a wrongful-death claim you are first of all questioning the integrity of the individuals that were doing their jobs," she said. "They knew what they were doing was hazardous professions, but they were doing what they loved to do."

Copyright (c) 1996 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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