Originally Published: February 11, 2018 6:06 a.m.
Nearly five years after the loss of 19 of Prescott’s Granite Mountain Hotshots, the tragedy continues to resonate in the community through a variety of memorialization efforts.
From a final home for one of the Hotshots’ transport buggies, to ongoing plans for a monument on the Yavapai County Courthouse Plaza, to a growing effort to display the artifacts left on the fence around the Hotshots’ fire station, progress is quietly underway on remembrances for the fallen firefighters.
Five years ago this month, the elite Hotshot crew was gearing up for the coming firefighting season – hiring and training new seasonal recruits. Just months later, 19 members of the crew died fighting the Yarnell Hill Fire on June 30.
Since then, a number of memorialization efforts have been completed, including a new Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial State Park in Yarnell, and a virtual museum (www.prescottlibrary.info/tfpp) that displays photos and information on the memorabilia from the Tribute Fence.
Still, a push has also been underway for more local memorials, including one on the courthouse plaza, and a museum of some sort to display the items that the grieving community left on the fence at Station 7 on Sixth Street in the weeks after the tragedy.
Meanwhile, the Los Angeles County Fire Museum also is finishing up its display of one of the Hotshots’ transport buggies at its new facility in Bellflower, California.
All three efforts are expected to show progress by the five-year mark of the tragedy on June 30.
Buggy’s permanent home
Joe Woyjeck, the father of fallen Hotshot Kevin Woyjeck, spearheaded the Los Angeles County Fire Museum’s 2017 purchase of the two buggies that carried the Hotshots to their final assignment in Yarnell.
In June 2017, museum representatives transported one of the buggies to California, where it was temporarily displayed at the existing museum site while work was wrapping up on the new 27,000-square-foot facility in Bellflower.
Woyjeck, vice president of the Los Angeles County Fire Museum, reported this past week that the buggy was moved on Feb. 7 to its new spot in the nearly finished museum space.
“I hadn’t driven the buggy before, and it was very emotional to drive it,” Woyjeck said, noting that the buggy would be displayed along with other rigs that have sentimental value for Los Angeles-area firefighters.
A professional display-development company will work on signs that will explain the buggy’s history to the public. “It will definitely tell a story,” Woyjeck said.
A private ribbon-cutting for the new museum space took place in late January, and Woyjeck expects a “soft opening” of the new museum to the public by April or May.
Then, on July 14, an all-day grand opening is being planned. Woyjeck says the event will be free and open to the public, and organizers are expecting a turnout of more than 5,000 people.
As the event approaches, more information will be available on the museum’s website at www.lacountyfiremuseum.com.
A Hotshot presence on the courthouse plaza also is still in the works. While the actual monument will not be in place by the five-year mark, a vision of what is to come likely will be made public before June 30.
The idea for a downtown-Prescott memorial arose soon after the Yarnell Hill Fire. Bruce Martinez, a retired Prescott Fire Chief, was asked by the Prescott Fire Department to help field calls that were flooding in with memorial ideas after the tragedy.
That led to the formation of the Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial Partnership, which, in early 2016, put out a call to the public for ideas on the details of the memorial.
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The committee later put out a request for proposals from artists, and by June 2017, more than two dozen had submitted ideas for the memorial. That number, in turn, was pared to five artists, who were interviewed by the partnership.
Since then, Martinez said, the number has been trimmed again to three finalists, each of whom was asked for more information.
“We’ve asked them for more specifics,” he said of the three finalists. Another round of interviews is expected by late February/early March.
Among the requested details is a “ballpark figure” on the estimated cost of the monument, Martinez said. The fundraising and financial planning for the monument is still to come, he said, noting, “When we choose an artist, we’ll go into the next phase.”
The memorial is being planned on a county-approved 400-square-foot space on the courthouse plaza along Cortez Street, south of its intersection with Union Street.
The choice of the final design could happen in the coming months. “The goal is to have the design completely out to the public (by June 30),” Martinez said.
Although the partnership is not releasing the names of the finalists or their conceptual designs, Martinez said two are from Arizona, and one is from California.
The committee includes: Martinez; Gayle Mabery, Clarkdale Town Manager; Danny Parker, father of fallen Hotshot Wade Parker, and a retired Chino Valley Fire District Captain; Alexa Scholl, former Prescott High School student and current Prescott City Councilwoman; Paul Roberts of Roberts and Carver PLLC; John Coleman, renowned artist; Celeste Gordon, U.S. Forest Service; Jim Holst, retired Yavapai County Administrator; Ernie Jones, Yavapai-Prescott Indian Tribe President; Pat McCarty, Prescott Fire District Engineer, and former Hotshot; and Brad Fain, who replaced his father Bill Fain, who died in August 2016.
Display of artifacts
Over the years, some in the community also have pushed for a local display of the thousands of remembrances that were placed on the fence surrounding the Hotshots’ Sixth Street fire station.
Fire Chief Dennis Light reported recently that a group of volunteers had formed as the Granite Mountain Interagency Hotshot Crew Learning and Tribute Center Board of Directors – an effort that he said “continues to garner traction.”
The group currently is finalizing its non-profit status, Light said, and the Prescott Fire Department is helping to coordinate a possible location at the Prescott Gateway Mall for displaying memorabilia from the fence.
The group includes: John Marsh, Tom Haney, Nancy Christie, Tony Shaw, Jason Lohman, Karen Norris, Dennis Bueschel, Diane Clevenger, and Mardi Reed.
Light explained that the effort stems from a meeting that took place among family members and concerned residents in April 2017 prior to the city’s sale of the Station 7 property.
At the time, some support arose for preserving Station 7 as a possible future museum/learning center site.
Even though the city ultimately sold the fire station to a private business in July 2017, the group continued to work on plans for a display site at a different location.
Now, Light said the group has progressed to the point where members “hope to put on a display in the next 60 days.” A likely location is the old Foot Locker store site at the Gateway Mall, he said.
The plan is to display a sampling of the items – made up of signs, T-shirts, photos, flags, notes, and other remembrances – that accumulated on the fence and were later taken down, cataloged, and stored by volunteers.
The plan involves taking a sampling of the items out of storage and displaying them at the mall site, and regularly refreshing the displays with other items, Light said.
The arrangement is expected to last for at least a year, and possibly for multiple years, Light said, adding that the group still needs to work out a schedule, as well as volunteers to staff the site.
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