PRESCOTT, Ariz. (AP) – The idea to drape the bodies of 19 dead firefighters in American flags came from Yavapai County Sheriff Scott Mascher, shortly after the men were found dead.
“He was overwhelmed. He was down there at the time the evacuations were in progress, then when he met with the staff and learned of some firsthand details with folks on the scene that the firefighters passed away, he made the decision we need to bring them down the hill in honor,” agency spokesman Dwight D’Evelyn said.
Authorities reached Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer and she had her staff rush the flags to the site, hours after the tragedy on June 30, D’Evelyn said.
A few photos were snapped, and the moment was memorialized. Everyone agreed the pictures would remain private. Then one appeared anonymously Thursday on Facebook: A stark image of the victims lying next to one another in two rows on the scorched earth, American flags draped over the remains. Several media outlets, including the Arizona Republic and USA Today, published the photo on Friday.
For family members and first responders, the picture is both haunting and a comfort, providing a brief window into how fellow firefighters and law enforcement tried to bring dignity to a situation that was unbearable.
“I personally felt comfort seeing how taken care of they were and honored at the site,” said Paul Bourgeois, a Phoenix-area fire chief who is acting as a spokesman in Prescott for the families. “What bothers me is the insensitivity of the person who took the picture and shared it.”
The families “just feel it was a violation of privacy,” he said.
Wade Ward, a Prescott fire spokesman, said he had taken similar images and others at the scene, and had met with families of the firefighters and asked them if they wanted to see the photos of the American flag-draped bodies. Some weren’t ready, but they said one day they would be, and when that day came, the photos could be released to the public.
The American flags accompanied the victims as their remains were transported in individual hearses Sunday back to Prescott. They will be given to their families.
The flags were just one of many efforts to honor the fallen firefighters. Their bodies have also never been left alone, a tradition that most firefighters follow whenever one of their own is lost. Someone stands watch with the bodies at the morgue and accompanies them as they are transported.
Randy Lovely, senior vice president for Republic media, said in an email Saturday that the newspaper had several careful and thoughtful discussions before publishing the photo, including conversations with an ethicist.
“Throughout our conversations two issues were top of mind _ honoring our responsibility to chronicle the events of last Sunday but always being mindful of the huge sacrifice of life,” Lovely wrote. “Ultimately, we felt that the picture showed the deliberate care and attention given to honor the firefighters while also filling in more details of the events as they occurred. I believe the picture is incredibly moving and a tribute to the 19 men.”
He said that the Republic doesn’t know who exactly took the picture, “but we know that only a limited number of officials had access to the scene.”
Officials confirmed the contents of the picture to The Associated Press, but said they didn’t know who took it and declined to release another version. The AP decided to release the photo because it had already been seen widely and showed the effort first responders took to honor the dead.
Another photo first posted to Facebook on Saturday, this time by the Prescott Fire Department, shows the site where the fighters were killed. The aerial shot looks like a moonscape, with no vegetation recognizable on the blackened earth. A thin road built by a bulldozer cuts through the middle of the land, stopping where the bodies were found.
The firefighters were killed a week ago in the Yarnell Hill fire, sparked by lightning on June 28. It was 90 percent contained Sunday, after destroying more than 100 homes in Yarnell and burning about 13 square miles. The town remained evacuated Sunday.
The crew of elite Hotshots was working to build a fire line between the blaze and Yarnell when erratic winds suddenly shifted the wildfire’s direction, causing it to hook around the firefighters and cut off access to a ranch that was to be their safety zone.
The men were in the prime of their lives, and many left behind wives _ some pregnant _ and small children.
Follow Amanda Lee Myers on Twitter at
(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
- Tips to get ready for a pain-free golf season
- Protect your family with these 7 home security features
- How to train like an Olympic swimmer
- 2016 Olympics: A guide to must-see TV events
- The bride's guide to feeling your best on your wedding day
- Deciding when you need knee surgery
- Celebrating Fourth of July is much cooler in these AZ towns
- Top ten road trip bathrooms in America
- Six things causing a pain in your neck
- 5 things to make your summer move easier
- Three elements of a strong timeshare exit guarantee
- Stretches and exercises for carpal tunnel syndrome
- The best Major League ballparks have their own personality
- Comparing the best regular seasons: The '96 Bulls and '16 Warriors
- 3 Arizona road trips and the vehicles to get you there
- Colon cancer is preventable. Check these signs and symptoms to stay healthy.
- 6 of the biggest skin cancer myths
- Affordable small home makeover ideas
- Locals helping locals: 6 success stories you need to know about
- Sunscreen facts that could save your life
- 6 energy saving hacks for your home
- 5 tips for choosing a company to end your timeshare
- Overlooked water tips to save you money
- 5 of the most adored gentlemen in professional sports today
- The real danger of sitting at your desk
- Most surprising NBA playoff performances of the last 40 years
- 11 classic baseball movies you must see again
- Finally getting rid of fat: 3 methods that actually work
- 4 reasons cancer survivors should focus on food
- 5 spring cleaning spots everyone forgets