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 ...

(Facebook Photo/Granite Mountain Interagency Hotshot Crew Learning and Tribute Center, left, Getty Images Photo, right)

(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.

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Pass it along to the KTAR News team here.

Arizona News

Person planting a 5 foot tree...

Some residents in Mesa qualify for a free shade tree

Qualifying Mesa residents can now enroll in the city's tree shade program, which offers eligible participants the opportunity to plant a tree in their yard at no cost.

7 hours ago

Teen girl accused of attacking, robbing victim, Gilbert police say...

Gilbert PD arrest teen girl accused of attacking victim in youth violence case

The Gilbert Police Department said on Tuesday it arrested a teen girl accused of attacking and robbing a victim in September 2023.

8 hours ago

Southbound I-17 was closed for a fatal crash on Feb. 20, 2024. (ADOT Photo)...

Southbound I-17 reopens just north of metro Phoenix after fatal crash

The southbound I-17 reopened at around 6 p.m. after a fatal crash caused a shutdown, according to the Arizona Department of Transportation.

11 hours ago

Bob Sanders will officially become the Buckeye police chief on March 3, 2024. (Buckeye Photo)...

Buckeye appoints new police chief to lead West Valley city

Buckeye announced Tuesday it had promoted Bob Sanders to police chief after serving a decade as deputy police chief in the West Valley city.

12 hours ago

Saiya, at First Avenue and McKinley Street in the Roosevelt Row area, had its last beam placed on t...

Downtown Phoenix apartment tower Saiya reaches construction milestone

A downtown Phoenix high-rise apartment tower that has been under construction for nearly two years recently reached a milestone ahead of its anticipated summer opening.

13 hours ago

Peso pluma singing on Mesa's Sloan Park stage in 2023....

Mexican singer Peso Pluma to stop in Phoenix on ‘Exodo’ tour this fall

Mexican singer Peso Pluma announced a stop in Phoenix on his upcoming tour, officials said.

15 hours ago

Sponsored Articles


Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Valley residents should be mindful of plumbing ahead of holidays

With Halloween in the rear-view and more holidays coming up, Day & Night recommends that Valley residents prepare accordingly.


Sanderson Ford

The best ways to honor our heroes on Veterans Day and give back to the community

Veterans Day is fast approaching and there's no better way to support our veterans than to donate to the Military Assistance Mission.



The 2023 Diamondbacks are a good example to count on the underdog

The Arizona Diamondbacks made the World Series as a surprise. That they made the playoffs at all, got past the Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Wild Card round, swept the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLDS and won two road games in Philadelphia to close out a full seven-game NLCS went against every expectation. Now, […]

Grandfather remembers fallen Granite Mountain Hotshots tragedy on 10-year anniversary