Originally Published: June 30, 2014 6:01 a.m.
The deep grief that gripped the Prescott community when the 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots died in the Yarnell Hill fire eased with the creativity of artisans who paid tribute to them in song and narrative works.
Beverly Swanson-Alyward, who spends winters in Prescott and summers in Minnesota, knew of the fire and wrote "Angels over Prescott" earlier this year, months after the fire, because she had to track down a story she had heard about a woman who had seen angels in he sky the day of the tragic fire.
Swanson-Alyward finally found her at the beginning of 2014 and visited her at her beauty shop in her home in Paulden. The person she sought for so long is Denise Norris, who relayed to Swanson-Alyward her experience on June 30, 2013, beginning that morning.
Norris told her that when she arrived in Prescott to run errands, her car acted up but that she had managed to drive it to Prescott Gateway Mall to wait for her husband to come from Paulden to help her.
The sky was bright blue and cloudless at about 10:45 a.m., Norris recalled. As she thanked God for helping her escape an accident because of her failing car, as she struggled to get it to the mall parking lot, she said she "looked up to the sky in prayer and spotted a large group of angels in a circle."
Norris told Swanson-Alyward that she was not startled by the sight because she had seen angels before. She said three of the angels held musical instruments - one a flute, one a harp and one an unidentifiable instrument.
When Norris's husband, Brian, arrived, he, too, could see the angels and remarked to his wife, "Something big must be going on" for so many angels to be in one place, "seemingly waiting for something." No one else in the mall parking lot seemed to see the angels in the sky, Norris said.
Once the car was in the repair shop, the couple finished their errands and drove back to Paulden in the early afternoon. Norris said she continued to see the angels on the drive home.
During the afternoon, the Norrises worked in their yard, both still seeing the angels in the sky above them.
About 3:30 p.m., the sky filled with dark clouds, "but a halo of blue sky surrounded the angels," Norris told Swanson-Alyward.
At about 4 p.m. Norris said the "wind suddenly changed in the opposite direction almost with tornado strength."
She said she "saw the angels fly off at a very rapid speed toward the south."
At 6:30 p.m., Norris said her cell phone started ringing. People were telling her to turn on the television. This is when she and her husband learned of the Granite Mountain Hotshots' deaths in the Yarnell Hill fire.
At 4:47 p.m. that afternoon, Norris said she and Brian had "grabbed each other's hands and fell to the floor sobbing." This would have been before they knew about the deadly fire.
Norris had cut Hotshot Wade Parker's hair for years. In reflecting on that fateful day a year ago, she believes that the group of angels that she saw were waiting to escort the souls of the perished Hotshots to heaven.
Angels were the tribute Birmingham, Ala., resident Barbara Yarber chose when she heard the news of the Hotshots' deaths. She customarily gives angels to people when they have lost loved ones.
Even though she lives far away and didn't know the Hotshots, Yarber was saddened by the tragedy and wanted to do something for their families. She commissioned Texas artist Rosemary Trevino, who created 2-inch boy angels to be worn as pins, each with a fireman's hat. The heart of the pin is engraved with a name of the Hotshot to whose family it went. Each pin is decorated with 19 purple crystals to represent the fallen Hotshots and an American flag. Yarber also sent an angel pin to Brendan McDonough, the lone Prescott Hotshot who survived he fire.
The pins were delivered to the families late last summer.
Artist Dennis Taylor of Little Wing Art in Chino Valley had at his fingertips the symbol he wanted to sculpt - bronze door knockers - in memory of the Granite Mountain 19.
A few years ago, Taylor said, he was commissioned by the family of a retiring fire chief in Connecticut to craft a door knocker that would represent a life dedicated to service and community.
When the Hotshots died in the Yarnell Hill fire, Taylor produced a door knocker unique to them.
"This tragic event, the loss of the 19 Granite Mountain Hotshot firefighters, has brought us all closer together and reinforced the importance of community and family," Taylor said. "My wish is that everyone remember how these fine men impacted our country and made us all aware of what it means to be a firefighter and hero."
Taylor has donated 25 percent of proceeds from sales of the door knockers to Prescott Fire Fighters Charities, he said.
When musicians are struck by a tragic event, they often express their sorrow through their music. Such was the case in Prescott and Yarnell, when a host of talent came forward to honor the Hotshots.
Jim Behnke was overjoyed that monsoon rain dumped on Prescott on June 30, 2013, but his feelings turned to horror when he heard the Hotshots had died fighting the Yarnell Hill fire. In response, he wrote the song, "Nineteen Heroes."
Yarnell resident and musician Denise Roggio produced "Blazing Honor," and local musician and thespian Ered Matthew wrote "Change in the Wind" to memorialize the Hotshots.
The tragedy of this horrific event in Prescott and Arizona's history also prompted Brad Newman to record a video, "Ashes and Dust," and Doc Donsky, Mark Echard and Clyde Score to produce their song, "Yarnell Hill," and John Phillips, who composed "One Foot in the Black, One Foot in the Green."
And, even though a year has gone by, the music has not stopped. The Road 1 South Band recently posted an original song, written and arranged John Wurtz and performed by the Road 1 South Band. In a preface, band members wrote, "Posted with love and respect as we near the one-year anniversary of that tragic day ... to honor the memory of the Granite Mountain Hotshots. They are, in fact now, 19 angels. God bless them all."
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