Stillwater News Press

Our World

July 2, 2013

Arizona town remembers 19 firefighters

PRESCOTT, Ariz. — The firefighters walked down the bleachers in a silent gymnasium full of mourners, their heavy work boots drumming a march on the wooden steps.  

They bowed their heads for moments of silence at the front of an auditorium that was so packed organizers had to send people outside for fear of violating the fire code. The burly men then hugged each other and cried at the end of a deeply emotional memorial Monday evening in the Arizona mountain town of Prescott.  

More than 1,000 people gathered in the gymnasium on the campus of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University as others throughout the state and beyond also mourned the deaths of the 19 Prescott-based firefighters killed Sunday outside nearby Yarnell. The day marked the nation’s deadliest for fire crews since Sept. 11, 2001.

Prescott Fire Chief Dan Fraijo spoke in a shaky voice at the memorial as he described throwing a picnic a month ago for the department’s new recruits and meeting their families.

“About five hours ago, I met those same families at an auditorium,” he said. “Those families lost. The Prescott Fire Department lost. The city of Prescott lost, the state of Arizona and the nation lost,” he said before receiving a standing ovation as he left the lectern.

For the 19 killed, violent wind gusts turned a lightning-caused forest fire into a death trap that left no escape.  

In a desperate attempt at survival, the firefighters — members of a highly skilled Arizona-based Hotshot crew — had unfurled their foil-lined, heat-resistant shelters and rushed to cover themselves on the ground. But the success of the shelters depends on firefighters being in a cleared area away from fuels and not in the direct path of a raging fire.

Only one member of the 20-person crew survived, and that was because he was moving the unit’s truck at the time.

The blaze grew from 200 acres to about 2,000 in a matter of hours, and Prescott City Councilman Len Scamardo said the wind and fire made it impossible for the firefighters to flee around 3 p.m. Sunday.

“The winds were coming from the southeast, blowing to the west, away from Yarnell and populated areas. Then the wind started to blow in, the wind kicked up to 40 to 50 mph gusts and it blew east, south, west — every which way,” he said. “What limited information we have was there was a gust of wind from the north that blew the fire backed, and trapped them.”

Authorities are investigating to figure out what exactly went wrong after the wind suddenly changed direction. Mary Rasmussen, a spokeswoman for the Southwest incident team, said Atlanta NIMO, or National Incident Management Organization, will be the lead in the probe and will aim to put out a report in the coming days with preliminary information.

The multi-agency group of investigators arrived Monday and was being briefed in Phoenix. Judith Downing, a spokeswoman for the taskforce, said they would go to the fire scene Tuesday.

On Tuesday morning, higher humidity overnight helped make conditions a bit less volatile, said spokeswoman Karen Takai. But the Yarnell Hill Fire was still zero percent contained, and thunderstorms that bring little rain and a lot of lightning remained a major threat because of the dry vegetation, she said.

Winds were calm but thunderstorm cells were already visible, Takai said before dawn.

At last count, about 500 firefighters were on the scene, with more on the way. The fire has burned 8,400 acres, or about 13 square miles, as a heat wave across the Southwest sent temperature soaring.

Southwest incident team leader Clay Templin said the crew and its commanders were following safety protocols, and it appears the fire’s erratic nature simply overwhelmed them.

The Hotshot team had spent recent weeks fighting fires in New Mexico and Prescott before being called to Yarnell, entering the smoky wilderness over the weekend with backpacks, chainsaws and other heavy gear to remove brush and trees.

In a heartbreaking sight, a long line of vans from a coroner’s office carried the bodies of the 19 firefighters Monday from Yarnell to Phoenix for autopsies, as the fire burned out of control.

Yavapai County said an estimated 200 homes and other structures burned in Yarnell and hundreds of people have been evacuated.

In addition to the flames, downed power lines and exploding propane tanks continued to threaten what was left of the town, said fire information officer Steve Skurja.  A light rain fell Monday but did little in helping crews gain the upper hand fire.

Arizona’s governor called Sunday “as dark a day as I can remember” and ordered flags flown at half-staff.

“I know that it is unbearable for many of you, but it also is unbearable for me. I know the pain that everyone is trying to overcome and deal with today,” said Gov. Jan Brewer, her voice catching several times as she addressed reporters and residents at Prescott High School in the town of 40,000.

Fraijo said he feared the worst when he received a call Sunday afternoon from someone assigned to the fire.

“All he said was, ‘We might have bad news. The entire Hotshot crew deployed their shelters,”’ Fraijo said. “When we talk about deploying the shelters, that’s an automatic fear, absolutely. That’s a last-ditch effort to save yourself when you deploy your shelter.”

The 19 killed were Andrew Ashcraft, 29; Kevin Woyjeck, 21; Anthony Rose, 23; Eric Marsh, 43; Christopher MacKenzie, 30; Robert Caldwell, 23; Clayton Whitted , 28; Scott Norris, 28; Dustin Deford, 24; Sean Misner, 26; Garret Zuppiger, 27; Travis Carter, 31; Grant McKee, 21; Travis Turbyfill, 27; Jesse Steed, 36; Wade Parker, 22; Joe Thurston, 32; William Warneke, 25; and John Percin, 24.

1
Text Only | Photo Reprints
Our World
  • To sleep well, you may need to adjust what you eat and when

    Sleep.  Oh, to sleep.  A good night's sleep is often a struggle for more than half of American adults.  And for occasional insomnia, there are good reasons to avoid using medications, whether over-the-counter or prescription.

    April 17, 2014

  • Doctors to rate cost effectiveness of expensive cancer drugs

    The world's largest organization of cancer doctors plans to rate the cost effectiveness of expensive oncology drugs, and will urge physicians to use the ratings to discuss the costs with their patients.

    April 17, 2014

  • Why Facebook is getting into the banking game

    Who would want to use Facebook as a bank? That's the question that immediately arises from news that the social network intends to get into the electronic money business.

    April 16, 2014

  • Victimized by the 'marriage penalty'

    In a few short months, I'll pass the milestone that every little girl dreams of: the day she swears - before family and God, in sickness and in health, all in the name of love - that she's willing to pay a much higher tax rate.

    April 16, 2014

  • portraitoflotte.jpg VIDEO: From infant to teen in four minutes

    Dutch filmmaker Frans Hofmeester’s time lapse video of his daughter, Lotte — created by filming her every week from her birth until she turned 14 — has become a viral sensation.

    April 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • bomb1 VIDEO: A year after marathon bombing, Boston remains strong

    The City of Boston came together Tuesday to honor those who were injured and lost their lives at the Boston Marathon on the one-year anniversary of the bombing. While the day was sure to be emotional, those affected by last year's race are showing they won't let the tragedy keep them down.

    April 15, 2014 1 Photo

  • Teens trading naked selfies for mugshots

    Will teenagers ever learn? You think yours will. Maybe so. But it's likely that was also the hope of the parents of children who were so shamed by nude photos of themselves that went south - how else can they go - that they killed themselves.

    April 12, 2014

  • Boston doctors can now prescribe you a bike

    The City of Boston this week is rolling out a new program that's whimsically known as "Prescribe-a-Bike." Part medicine, part welfare, the initiative allows doctors at Boston Medical Center to write "prescriptions" for low-income patients to get yearlong memberships to Hubway, the city's bike-share system, for only $5.

    April 12, 2014

  • Is a paleo vegetarian diet possible?

    Research shows most people can follow a regimented eating plan for a short time. That's not the challenge. The challenge is finding a healthful eating plan you can follow day after day and achieve your long-term health goals. At this point, it doesn't appear that the paleo eating plan meets these objectives for most people.

    April 11, 2014

  • Granddaughter_BH.jpg Duke’s granddaughter visits Enid

    Actor John Wayne left a legacy his granddaughter, Anita Swift, works along with other family members to preserve.

    April 11, 2014 1 Photo

Must Read
Buy & Share Photos
NewsPress e-Edition
NewsPress Specials
AP Video
Raw: Greeks Celebrate Easter With "Rocket War" Police Question Captain, Crew on Ferry Disaster Raw: Orthodox Christians Observe Easter Rite Ceremony Marks 19th Anniversary of OKC Bombing Raw: Four French Journalists Freed From Syria Raw: Massive 7.2 Earthquake Rocks Mexico Captain of Sunken SKorean Ferry Arrested Raw: Fire Destroys 3 N.J. Beachfront Homes Raw: Pope Presides Over Good Friday Mass Raw: Space X Launches to Space Station Superheroes Descend on Capitol Mall Man Charged in Kansas City Highway Shootings Obama Awards Navy Football Trophy Anti-semitic Leaflets Posted in Eastern Ukraine Raw: Magnitude-7.2 Earthquake Shakes Mexico City Ceremony at MIT Remembers One of Boston's Finest Raw: Students Hurt in Colo. School Bus Crash Raw: Church Tries for Record With Chalk Jesus Raw: Faithful Celebrate Good Friday Worldwide Deadly Avalanche Sweeps Slopes of Mount Everest
Stocks
NDN Video
Jabari Parker's Top 5 Plays From Duke Career Kourtney Kardashian Is a Bikini Babe More Manpower Than Ever Expected At 4/20 Rally Debunk'd: Miley Cyrus AIDS, Cheeseburgers Cause Cancer, Military Warning Bill Previewing the NBA playoffs Raw: Orthodox Christians Observe Easter Rite My name is Cocaine Raw: Space X Launches to Space Station Lohan Gets Candid About Her Sex List The 2014 New York Auto Show Meet Johnny Manziel's New Girlfriend Chelsea Clinton Announces Pregnancy Funny: Celebrating Easter with Martha Stewart and Friends Man Accuses 'X-Men' Director Bryan Singer of Sexually Abusing Him As a Teenager Man hit with $525 federal fine after he doesn't pay for soda refill Lea Michele & Naya Rivera Feuding? Jabari Parker declares for the NBA draft Singing Nun Belts Out Cyndi Lauper New West, Texas Explosion Video Swim Daily, Throwback Thursday