Five weeks after the stunning deaths of his fellow firefighters in an Arizona wildfire, sole survivor Brendan McDonough shared his memories of that June day with the Prescott Daily Courier and national morning show.
Despite the heartbreak and inherent danger, McDonough, 21, told the newspaper in one of two video interviews that he would return to firefighting for Prescott, although not necessarily as a hotshot.
“They wanted me to be the best firefighter I could be and that’s what I’m going to do,” he said of his fallen 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots teammates. He managed to attend 15 of the 19 services.
Serving as lookout the day of the Yarnell Fire near Prescott, McDonough was where he had been instructed to go, away from the group, sitting in a truck, when the wall of fire overtook his teammates.
In the weeks that followed the deadly June 30 firefight, a high-ranking state forestry official said the hotshot crew’s team leader broke protocol in the field and endangered the group.
Arizona State Forestry Division has since apologized for Deputy Director Jerry Payne’s remarks.
“I will make sure it’s known that no bad decisions were made, no one is at fault for what happened,” McDonough said. “I will never forget that day. … I was there, I know what happened. … it’s horrible that it happens, but it happens.”
McDonough’s Wednesday morning appearance on Good Morning America marked the first of two appearances on the network. More of the interview was scheduled for the evening news.
Immediately after the fire, “I could hear phones ringing, knowing that it was their wives, their families. I sunk into my seat, sunk into myself,” he said in the interview.
“I’ve asked a million times, why am I sitting here … why aren’t they sitting here with me?”
Walking through the team’s headquarters, McDonough said being there were “the best memories of my life.”