by Greg Mengarelli, Mayor, City of Prescott
As Prescott residents for 24 years, my wife and I consider Prescott to be our home, and the folks who live here to be like family. Five years ago, on June 30, 2013, our entire family was devastated by the news that 19 young men lost their lives battling the Yarnell Hill fire. These brave men were part of the Granite Mountain Interagency Hotshot Crew, and they gave their lives protecting our community.
As Prescott grieved, the nation and the world reached out to offer condolences and solidarity with our fire department. Literally thousands of items were sent to Prescott. Examples include T-shirts and flags signed by fire departments from Texas to France. Artists created unique pieces in tribute, such as paintings, sculptures and photography. Poetry and songs were written. Crosses and religious articles were made. Often, these items came in sets of 19 – one for each fallen hero.
A team of dedicated volunteers worked diligently to create a public display at Hotel St. Michael using hundreds of these artifacts during the summer of 2014. Tens of thousands came to pay respects to our fallen 19 at this display. Meanwhile, an online record of the artifacts was created with the Prescott Public Library and the Arizona Memory Project, and still exists today.
Eventually the display came down, and the artifacts were catalogued and stored in a City building for several years.
In 2017, Fire Chief Dennis Light facilitated a group of family members and citizens who came together to establish a new nonprofit group, with the mission to establish the GMIHC Learning and Tribute Center. This center will serve to not only help us remember our fallen heroes, but educate the public about wild land firefighting. City officials struck a deal with the Gateway Mall to store and display of some of the artifacts. The board and City are grateful to the mall owners for this generous donation of a prime retail space. For the longer term, the board would like to establish a stand-alone facility.
The center opened at the mall on June 29, one day before the fifth anniversary of the tragedy. The center is staffed by volunteers, and members of the board. It is a moving and powerful display of the artifacts and other information about the Granite Mountain Hotshots. I urge all Prescott citizens to visit this center and learn more about our fallen heroes and the wildland firefighting service. I would also like to thank all of the volunteers and staff from the City, who managed, maintained and cared for these artifacts for the past five years. This type of community spirit is part of what makes me proud of our City. God bless our fallen heroes, their families, and all first responders in our community and around the world. For more information about the center, go to gmihc19.org to check hours or email firstname.lastname@example.org.