4 from Prescott Valley among fallen firefighters
Four men from Prescott Valley were among those who lost their lives when the fast moving Yarnell Hill fire trapped 19 members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots Sunday.
Central Yavapai Fire Chief Paul Nies said his department is grieving along with Prescott Fire as local firefighters had worked with and were friends of the men who died.
Perhaps the grief is a bit deeper for three members of the CYFD crew who were working the fire, because they were some of the first to reach the firefighters after they died, Nies said.
Those three firefighters have come home, he said, and are receiving support from the department and the Arizona Local Assistance State Team (LAST), which steps in to help when a line-of-duty death occurs. Nies said LAST provides counseling, funeral planning and help with all the other logistics of dealing with such a tragedy.
The elite 20-man Granite Mountain hotshot team, based out of Prescott Fire, was the only one in the country organized through a city fire department. It earned its national interagency hotshot designation in 2008.
Prescott Fire Chief Dan Fraijo said the 20th crewmember was working in a different location on the fire and was not injured.
Fraijo, speaking at a media briefing at the Prescott Police Department Sunday night, said the tragedy was the worst in Arizona firefighting history.
"We just lost 19 of the finest people you'll ever meet," Fraijo said, choking back tears.
Nies said Central Yavapai also has stepped in to assist Prescott Fire with day to day operations.
"We knew they would need a significant amount of support early on," he said.
Support and donations have come from throughout the community. Butch Hampton of Hampton Funeral Home in Prescott has said he will donate funerals to all of the 19 firefighters.
Hampton said a firefighter's union representative came and told him that in Phoenix, funeral homes donated services to fallen firefighters and law enforcement officers.
"I told him, 'This isn't Phoenix, but I can do anything they can do, and I'm more than happy to do it," Hampton said, adding that his suppliers all have stepped in to donate caskets and services to help the firefighters' families.
In Prescott Valley, along with donations to various organizations set up to help the families, Nies said on Monday, people dropped off 200 home-cooked meals at Station 53.
Grabbing a moment of levity when he could, Nies said, "I asked them if they ate them all!"
The firefighters distributed what they could not eat among other stations.
"People just want to reach out," he said.
Because of her work with the Prescott Valley Healing Field, people also approached Councilwoman Mary Mallory about a memorial for the firefighters. The result is an area near Tim's Toyota Center with 19 flags to honor the 19 firefighters. Each flag will be labeled with the firefighters' names, and people in the community are invited to come by and leave remembrances.
"it's a place in Prescott Valley that people can come and leave mementos if they want, to express their grief," Nies said, adding that he is gratified at peoples' response to the tragedy.
"The last couple of days, people have come up to me to say they are sorry for our loss, that they love and appreciate the firefighters. It reaffirms my faith in humankind. This touches all members of our community in a very visceral way," he said.
An investigation into the deaths was scheduled to begin Tuesday as a special team arrived from Florida.
As part of the investigation, the team will review Sunday's weather conditions, fire department records, radio logs and any other evidence that may help determine how to prevent a similar tragedy in the future, said State Fire Information and Prevention Officer Carrie Dennett.
"We are confident that the investigative team will find lessons to be learned from this tragedy," said Arizona State Forester Scott Hunt. "We have a responsibility to those lost and their loved ones, as well as to current and future wildland firefighters, to understand what happened as completely as possible."
A Type I Incident Management crew took over operations from a Type II team at the fire Monday. A Central Yavapai supervisor and a patrol crew remain at the Yarnell Hill Fire.