Arizona Mourns Firefighters As Blaze Rages On

July 01, 2013
Laurel Morales
A makeshift memorial to the 19 firefighters killed in the Yarnell Hill Fire.

PRESCOTT, Ariz. — Arizona is grieving the loss of 19 firefighters who died fighting the 8,400-acre Yarnell Hill Fire in central Arizona. About 400 firefighters are working to contain the blaze.

All 19 killed were members of the Granite Mountain Hotshot Crew.

A sign outside the Prescott Fire Department reads, “they will never be forgotten.”

Crisis teams arrived in Prescott early Monday morning to console people who had lost their homes, and chaplains were also on hand to meet with the colleagues of the 19 firefighters who died.

People left memorials on the fence of Prescott Firehouse No. 7, the home of the hotshot crew. They arranged bottles of water and beer and American flags. They hung small handwritten noes and baseball caps of other fire departments from around the state on a chain link fence.

Dark clouds gathered overhead in the afternoon and it began to rain. It was a welcome respite from the fire that has burned more than 8,400 acres.

When resident Jim Kellman evacuated Sunday he couldn’t see anything but thick black smoke.

"It’s surreal. And being up here away from everything you don’t know what’s happening. You hear so many rumors. This burned or that burned. This person’s gone or that person’s gone," Kellman said.

No civilians have been injured or killed. Several hundred people have evacuated, and an estimated 200 homes have been burned.

Michel Marizco
Memorial grows outside Prescott Firehouse No. 7, the home of the Granite Mountain Hotshots.

Kellman is waiting out the fire at the Red Cross shelter in Prescott. He doesn’t know when he’ll be allowed to go back.

Like the firefighters who were killed Sunday, Tom Carson was a hotshot 20 years ago. He brought his son to the memorial and stood watching the people who approached the growing shrine. He said many of them were his neighbors.

"For this to happen, and happen to our local crews, it's just a tragedy for our whole community," Carson said.

A mile down the road, an emergency evacuation shelter was set up at Yavapai Community College. Chaplain Don Lopeman arrived Monday from the Phoenix area to talk with people here. Mostly he came to listen.

"Sometimes they just need to talk," Lopeman said. "Rather than holding it in and letting the stress build up, they can just talk and get it out of their system. So we're there just to make it easier on them."

Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett said he knows some of the firefighters who died, including 29-year-old Andrew Ashcraft.

"My heart’s just breaking for the wife of Andrew, Juliann," Bennett said. "Some of my family saw her in church yesterday with their four little children. At the time she was commenting about how she was worried how she always is when Andrew goes out on these fires but that he always comes home. Seven or eight hours later we get a call that he didn’t come home. That’s pretty tough."

On Monday afternoon the City of Prescott released the names of the firefighters killed. They are: Andrew Ashcraft, 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 Garret Zuppiger, 27.

Updated 7/1/2013 at 5:09 p.m.