Stories by Blake Herzog
It’s been a decade since calamity befell the Granite Mountain Hotshots as they battled the Yarnell Hill Fire 37 miles southwest of Prescott. Twenty of the City’s firefighters, deployed as an elite wildfire incident team, pressed up a ridge and into the Weaver Mountains as the wind sent the flames hurtling toward the community of Yarnell.
Nineteen of them never returned in the most devastating loss of personnel to a U.S. wildfire since 1933.
Family, friends and colleagues of the fallen were joined by thousands of residents and visitors, including firefighters from across the U.S. and Canada, at Prescott’s Courthouse Plaza June 30 for a ceremony to remember their lives and love and honor their sacrifice.
Gov. Katie Hobbs read a state proclamation and U.S. Sen. Mark Kelly sent a letter that was read to the crowd by Prescott Fire Chief Holger Durre, but the event’s focus was on the personal and professional families the 19 who perished left behind.
Brendan McDonough, the surviving crew member, read the Hotshots’ Prayer just as he had 10 years earlier at the first memorial service. It ends: “For if this day on the line I should answer death’s call, Lord, bless my hotshot crew, my family, one and all.”
The afternoon’s featured speaker was Ryder Ashcraft, 16, son of fallen Hotshot Andrew Ashcraft, who taught him what values to embrace with the “be better” bracelets he gave to everyone in the family.
He said he draws inspiration from the selflessness his father and his colleagues displayed: “The entire job of being a hotshot is to save people from dangers they don’t know are coming. It’s not a job you do for yourself, but to save those around you. This example guides my decisions and energy to this day.”
Arizona State Forester Tom Torres, who 10 years ago oversaw the Granite Mountain crew as it fought the Doce fire two weeks before Yarnell Hill, said the Hotshots “left behind a legacy of resilience, hope and determination that will forever inspire. And to the loved ones which carry the burden of their absence, know that you are still not alone. Our firefighting family stands beside you, offering unwavering support and gratitude for the sacrifices that you have endured.”
Prescott Mayor Phil Goode said everyone in the City felt the loss when the fire engulfed the crew and today, while residents are not defined by the tragedy, “My fervent hope is that we will truly never forget, we will prepare for the next challenge and maintain that special sense of community support that we all can take so much pride from, here in this very special place.”
And Hobbs said residents across the state owe a debt of thanks to wildland firefighters.
“Because of them we can raise our families in security and happiness, and we can enjoy the natural beauty and economic prosperity Arizona has to offer. In the vast ranges and forests of our state, which are at risk of wildfire, we owe men and women like the Granite Mountain Hotshots team our deepest gratitude,” she said.
The June 30 event marked the end of three days of remembrance across the city, beginning with the dedication of a mural honoring the firefighters on the side of the Chamber of Commerce building and continuing with an event marking five years since the Tribute and Learning Center opened at Prescott Gateway Mall. Another June 30 ceremony was held at the Yarnell Hill Fire Memorial Park in the center of Yarnell, where 127 structures were lost to the fire.