Memorials and fund-raising assistance were launched throughout the day on July 1 as Prescott, Arizona descended into grief at the loss of 19 of their fire department’s elite combat team, who were dubbed heroes.
The Granite Mountain Hotshot elite firefighting team members died after a wind shift brought a wall of flames up to 30 feet high crashing into their hurriedly assembled last-ditch fire shelters. One member of the 20-man team was deployed elsewhere and not injured.
The firefighters, 14 of them in their 20s, are being hailed as heroes. They are Andrew Ashcraft, age 29; Robert Caldwell, 23; Travis Carter, 31; Dustin Deford, 24; Christopher MacKenzie, 30; Eric Marsh, 43; Grant McKee, 21; Sean Misner, 26; Scott Norris, 28; Wade Parker, 22; John Percin, 24; Anthony Rose, 23; Jesse Steed, 36; Joe Thurston, 32; Travis Turbyfill, 27; William Warneke, 25; Clayton Whitted, 28; Kevin Woyjeck, 21, and Garrett Zuppiger, 27.
Currently covering more than 4,000 acres as of Monday night, it’s the deadliest wildfire for firefighters in 80 years and one of the worst in U.S. history, CNN reported. It was being battled by 400 personnel, according to InciWeb, but was zero percent contained on Monday.
Fund-raising sites sprang up online, and a memorial began in front of the Prescott Fire Department for the families left behind, including numerous children, some of them unborn. The Prescott Firefighter’s Charities, the official charity arm of the Prescott Fire Department, set up a donation site for the families of the victims.
“100% of any and all donations will go to the families of the fallen firefighters,” the group said on its website. “The Prescott Firefighter’s Charities is operated by Prescott firefighters, and we want to ensure everything goes to these families. No money will be diverted for administration costs or anything else—we are doing this on a volunteer basis. It’s a crushing blow for us, but we can’t fathom what their families are feeling.”
The crowdfunding Internet site Teespring.com launched a three-week campaign selling T-shirts honoring the Granite Mountain Hotshots Crew and had already received requests for more than 3,000 by Monday night July 1. Shirts sell for $20, and all proceeds go to the Wildland Firefighter Foundation, which honors those who die battling deadly blazes. Click here to reserve a shirt in the next two weeks, six days.
“Once we have all 19 #Heroes identified, the design of the #HeroesMemorial T-shirt will change to include all 19 names and the logo on the back,” said the Facebook page of In Memory of Prescott Firefighters Lost 6/30/2013. “Thank you all for your support for our Heroes Families!!”
Besides that Facebook page is one for Prescott Granite Mountain Hotshots, which has turned into a memorial page, and another for the Yarnell Hill Fire, which contains information from the InciWeb fire information site.
The Granite Mountain Hotshots, and other units like them, are specially and rigorously trained to hit the hottest spot of a fire.
“Members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, one of 112 Interagency Hotshot Crews around the country, have never had to use shelters during a wildfire,” wrote the Arizona Republic presciently in an April 2012 profile of the elite squad. “But working in remote locations to get ahead of the most dangerous sections of fires makes knowing how to do so a matter of life and death.”
As the firefighters’ bodies were transported to the medical examiner’s office in Maricopa County, people gathered—praying in front of the courthouse, creating a shrine in front of the fire department and waiting for word on a formal memorial service, the Los Angeles Times reported. Three of the men were from Southern California.
The exact reason for their demise was still being investigated, the Los Angeles Times said, although it appeared that wind gusts were fueled by a thunderstorm cell that moved into their vicinity as they fought the flames.
“The storm created strong and erratic winds in an area described as extremely rocky, with rough terrain and deep canyons,” the Los Angeles Times reported. “The gusts pushed the flames toward the hotshots, who were trying to create a firebreak in hopes of stopping the flames’ advance.”