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Arizona wildfire academy wraps up in Prescott

PHOENIX — Hundreds of people involved in the world of fighting wildfires have spent the past week in Arizona’s high country taking courses to prepare them for the upcoming fire season.

This year was by far the most emotional of the academy’s 12-year history following the loss of 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots in the Yarnell Hill Fire. Many people at the academy wore shirts honoring the fallen 19 and Prescott firefighters donned new caps with the number 19 displayed. Wade Ward, with Prescott Fire, was among the academy’s information officers and was close to the Granite Mountain Hotshots.

“We will never forget them,” he said. “It’s hard to move through every day without remembering it.”

The Granite Mountain crew’s leader was Eric Marsh, who helped launch the academy.

“He ran this out of his house for many years,” said Ward. “He taught many of these 130 to 190 basic firefighting classes.”

This year’s classes churned out 100 new firefighters. A typical year sees about 60 to 80 trainees.

The next generation moves on to save homes and lives from wildfires that are becoming bigger and more dangerous each passing year.

“Our job is to mitigate dangers,” said Ward. “We do the best we can but our jobs are dangerous. The reality is that you can get hurt or killed doing what we do.”