On Sunday, June 30, twenty members of the Granite Mountain Hotshot crew received the call. The well-respected team would be returning into action to help fight the Yarnell Hill fire.
They were returning into action because the Granite Mountain Hotshot crew was fresh off fighting the Doce wildfire in the Prescott National Forest. There they were commended for their efforts. In May, the crew based at Prescott Fire Station 7 was in New Mexico battling a wildfire there.
That’s what they did. They fought fires; tough ones with ground temperatures hovering near 100 degrees and fire temperatures reaching over 1,000 degrees. Wildfires that whipped through forests with flames reaching 20 feet high.
The Yarnell Hill fire would be the last call for 19 of those men. The lone survivor was over a mile away from the rest of the team. He was serving as a lookout when the winds suddenly and violently changed directions. On Tuesday we honor their memories and we honor their sacrifice.
Friends say team leader Eric Marsh seemed born to fight fires. He was the elder statesman of the group at 43.
29-year-old Andrew Ashcraft leaves behind four children and his wife Juliann. She says the Granite Mountain Hotshot crew’s main goal was to “save lives.”
Robert Caldwell, 23, was the squad boss because of his intelligence. He had just gotten married this past November.
Grant McKee was Robert Caldwell’s cousin. He was only 21-years-old. His grandmother said, “Everybody loved Grant.”
Travis Carter is described as the toughest of the crew. According to the Associated Press, he once held himself up in the plank position for 45 minutes. But friends say Travis never bragged and is known for his humility.
Dustin DeFord came from a big family in Montana. He has nine brothers and sisters. Dustin was 24.
30-year-old Chris Mackenzie followed in his father’s footsteps. His dad, Michael MacKenzie, is a retired firefighter from Moreno Valley, California.
Wade Parker fought fires just like his dad too. He loved being a part of the elite Granite Mountain Hotshots. He was 22.
Sean Miser was two months away from being a father. He was 26. Sean was a pretty good high school football player. His old football coach said Sean, “played with tremendous heart and desire.”
The best way to describe 28-year-old Scott Norris according to an acquaintance was, “if he was the kind of guy who if he dated your daughter, you’d be OK with it.”
24-year-old John Percin joined the Granite Mountain Hotshots this year. The Yarnell Hill fire was only the second fire he fought.
Anthony Rose was 23. Working with this crew was his dream job.
At 36, Jesse Steed was one of the oldest members of the team. He’s been described was the jokester, the one who was good for the morale of the entire crew.
One friend described Joe Thurston as “one of the best guys I ever met.” He was 32.
Travis Turbyfill, 27, served in the U.S. Marines before joining the Forest Service. Travis leaves behind his wife and two daughters.
25-year-old Bill Warneke was also an expectant father. He had joined the hotshot crew in April after serving with the U.S. Marines.
Clayton Whitted graduated from Prescott High School. He is described as a servant. Clayton was active within his church and loved helping his community. He was 28.
Kevin Woyjeck always wanted to fight fires like his dad. He was only 21. He will be remembered for having an infectious smile.
Garret Zuppiger was a Greenway High School graduate from Phoenix. He was 27. Garret, like so many of the other members of the Granite Mountain Hotshot crew, is described as the guy who would give you the shirt off his back.
These 19 men constantly ran towards danger. This was their calling. They did it to serve. They did it to protect people’s homes. People they had never met. And they did it time and time again whenever the call came in.
We’ve talked about hotshot crews and the dangers they face before during some of Arizona’s other wildfires. I doubt we’ve ever appreciated them as much as we do Tuesday.
Just over a week ago the Granite Mountain Hotshot crew ran towards the flames at the same time hundreds of residents of Yarnell Hill were packing some belongings into their cars evacuating their homes.
Their mission was to save as many of those homes as possible. Ultimately, they sacrificed all with that goal in mind.
On Tuesday, we honor them.
And we will always remember the Granite Mountain Hotshot crew’s sacrifice.