Grandfather remembers fallen Granite Mountain Hotshots tragedy on 10-year anniversary
Jun 29, 2023, 4:25 AM | Updated: Jun 30, 2023, 6:28 pm
(Facebook Photo/Granite Mountain Interagency Hotshot Crew Learning and Tribute Center, left, Getty Images Photo, right)
PHOENIX — Lew Theokas remembers the last time he spoke with his firefighter grandson.
Garret Zuppiger called Theokas, a volunteer fireman himself, and the two talked about a growing blaze Zuppiger was working — the Yarnell Hill Fire.
Theokas, who was traveling with his wife in their RV, joked that he hoped the fire near Prescott would still be going in a couple of days so the two of them could fight it together.
They didn’t get the opportunity.
Zuppiger and 18 of his Granite Mountain Hotshots colleagues were killed on June 30, 2013, when they were overrun by the fast-moving blaze.
“I asked him to save me some of the fires because I’d be back in a couple of days and hopefully we could fight the fire together … but it didn’t turn out that way,” Zuppiger said.
Ten years later, Theokas still has fond memories of his grandson.
He’s quick to recollect the last time they saw each other.
It was about two months before the tragedy, which went down as the greatest loss of life for firefighters in a wildfire since the 1930s.
Zuppiger and his girlfriend stopped by for Easter dinner. The grandson moved a rock load from Theokas’ truck to a drainage ditch while dinner was being made, saving Theokas nearly two hours of work.
It’s a gesture Theokas won’t forget. He said it’s a testament to the kind of person his grandson was and what his crew stood for.
“These were wonderful young men — all of them,” Theokas said. “Not just my grandson, but you know, they were all cut from the same cloth.
“I know he was really proud and it meant a lot for him to be part of that group.”
Theokas still works for the Peeples Valley Fire District, just north of the fire’s location.
Zuppiger and his 18 colleagues will be remembered Friday on the 10-year anniversary of their deaths, but Theokas said the tragedy has made in the people in the area more tight-knit.
It’s the only positive he takes from the situation.
“It’s made us a closer community,” Theokas said. “We’re a lot closer. People have built stronger relationships.”
KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Jim Cross contributed to this story.