Hotshot widow speaks of love and choices

Heidi Dahms Foster/Chino Valley Review/Courtesy<br>
Amanda Marsh, wife of Granite Mountain Hotshot  Eric Marsh, speaks Thursday afternoon as Prescott Fire Wildland Division Chief Darryl Willis, left, and  retired Prescott Wildland Division Chief Duane Steinbrink look on. Steinbbrink is holding a set of Eric’s wildland firefighting clothing.

Heidi Dahms Foster/Chino Valley Review/Courtesy<br> Amanda Marsh, wife of Granite Mountain Hotshot Eric Marsh, speaks Thursday afternoon as Prescott Fire Wildland Division Chief Darryl Willis, left, and retired Prescott Wildland Division Chief Duane Steinbrink look on. Steinbbrink is holding a set of Eric’s wildland firefighting clothing.

Amanda Marsh, wife of Eric Marsh, one of the 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots who lost his life in the Yarnell Hill Fire Sunday, said the founder and superintendent of the crew was "90 percent hotshot, and the 10 percent was left for us." In the same statement, however, she said, "he loved me more than I've ever been loved in my life."

Marsh spoke to the media Thursday at Prescott High School, surrounded by Prescott Fire Wildland Division Chief Darryl Willis, her parents, and a large group of young men she said had been part of the crew at one time or another.

The couple met at Denny's in Prescott Valley, and were together for six years, married for three. Marsh described her husband as a man who was strong but had great compassion for animals. She is a natural horse hoof trimmer and care specialist, and said in a previous interview that Eric encouraged her to pursue her passion. They shared their home with two beloved dogs and several horses. She said Eric had an immense heart and was incredibly funny.

"He loved so many people. We liked to watch Family Guy, and he used laugh at Brian, his favorite," she said.

They did not have children, but Marsh said Eric referred to the men on his crew as his "kids."

"He meant that very sincerely. He had a bond with his crew - it was beyond words to describe," she said.

Marsh said she didn't worry about her husband when he was fighting fires.

"I am a very strong person. I have a life and I chose to live it. He was very safe and I knew that," she said.

She added that she was fine with his dedication to the Granite Mountain Hotshots.

"I wanted my husband to do what he loved, and he gave me that same respect back. That's a marriage that works, and that's what we strove to do."

Willis said he lost 19 sons when the Hotshots died Sunday, and Eric Marsh, at 43, was the oldest one. He said he was grooming Marsh to take over his position in the near future.

"Our relationship went way beyond worker and and co-worker. It was friend," he said.

Willis described Marsh as a tough leader but a considerate, kind and loyal man, in whom he had every confidence as the hotshot superintendent.

"He was well trained, with 23 years of experience, and he had every class, beyond what was required, to lead this group of individuals. He never faltered. I have complete confidence that he knew exactly what was going on Sunday evening and the best course of action. That should never be questioned," Willis said. "He led (the crew) and they all agreed, the leadership there was unbelievable."

Willis added, "My hope is that Amanda and the family, and Eric's family, gets the peace that passes all understanding in this situation. I am so thankful for Eric."

Amanda, along with the rest of the wives and families of the fallen Granite Mountain hotshots, now are faced with moving on with their lives. But she's determined, and she has a world of support.

"I have a bright future ahead of me. I'm 38 years old and I'm a widow. However, I know that my life is going to go on. Right now I'm grieving, along with the rest of the world, and there are so many thoughts and prayers that are with me and everybody else who has suffered a tremendous loss."

She knows that all those who loved these 19 young men will have to dig deep.

"We're all Hotshot wives, sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers and friends. We all have a strength in us that maybe all of us don't even know yet."