A few hundred people in Yarnell had to pack up what they could from their homes before they headed for shelter. Most of their possessions are left behind.
It can be difficult to prioritize your life in a matter of minutes.
I tried to do this right before Hurricane Katrina. I was headed into work. I grabbed a couple pairs of shorts and T-shirts, a few pairs of underwear and a toothbrush. After the water levels receded enough, the crew I was working with drove to Houston without stopping at home.
None of us knew what we would find when we returned. My wife and I were some of the lucky ones. We didn’t lose anything. Some of our friends lost everything.
But, it didn’t seem to matter.
It didn’t matter because over 1,800 people had lost their lives. Possessions don’t mean much after that. They are just things that can be replaced. Lives can’t.
I imagine the people of Yarnell feel that way Monday. Nineteen firefighters from the Granite Mountain Hotshot crew gave their lives to protect their homes and their community. Suddenly, those possessions they were hoping to protect seem so meaningless.
These 19 men were amongst the best firefighters in the country. Part of the elite. Hotshots have been described as the Navy SEALs of firefighting. They are the ones who run towards the flames, not away from them. They signed up for it. They want to do this.
They did do this, time and time again. Two of them were only 21 years old. The others were mostly a mix of guys in their 20s with a few in their 30s. One, the oldest of the crew, was 43.
In the coming days we will learn more about these men and more about their dangerous profession.
I’ll admit I don’t know that much about wildfires. But, I’m beginning to understand what it takes to fight them and just how difficult it is.
I now know how demanding hotshot training is and I appreciate it more than I ever have.
Monday, I learned that bravery is a word that does not do these 19 men of the Granite Mountain Hotshots justice because they truly left it all behind.
For volunteer, fundraising and other ways to assist those affected by the Yarnell Hill Fire, go to yarnellfallenfirefighters.com.