YARNELL – With the fears from the recent Tenderfoot Fire still fresh in their minds, Yarnell looked back this week to an even darker time – the 2013 Yarnell Hill Fire that killed 19 young firefighters, and destroyed 129 homes.
A crowd of residents, firefighters, public officials, motorcycle riders, and members of the media packed the Yarnell Community Presbyterian Church Thursday evening, June 30, to commemorate the three-year mark of the Granite Mountain Hotshot tragedy.
It was apparent from the program’s poems, songs, and comments that the June Tenderfoot Fire, which prompted the evacuation of about 350 Yarnell residents, had refreshed the grief.
“This last fire really got all of those emotions stirred up again,” said Kae Cameron, who had moved into her Yarnell home just 10 days before the start of the Yarnell Hill Fire. “I was surprised how panicked I was” after receiving the notice to evacuate for the Tenderfoot Fire.
Lew Theokas, a Peeples Valley resident and the grandfather of fallen Hotshot Garret Zuppiger, served as the master of ceremonies on Thursday, and told the crowd that the news about the Tenderfoot Fire had brought up a terrifying thought: “Oh God, not again.”
“But,” Theokas said, “This time was different. This time we worked together; this time we were better prepared; this time help came swiftly and effectively; this time, it seems, we got it right. And maybe, just maybe, this time we had 19 angels looking out for us.”
Janet Howe, a 20-year resident of Yarnell, noted that the tragedy had become a defining moment for residents. “The fire will always be a dividing line in the lives of those who went through it – this happened before the fire; this happened after the fire,” she said.
Howe advocated trying to move forward. “What happened here cannot be changed. How it is viewed by each and every person can be.” In conclusion, she asked, “To begin to heal is a choice; what has been your decision?”
Still, emotions ran high as members of the American Legion Post 6 Honor Guard from Prescott read the names of the 19 fallen Hotshots and rang a bell for each name.
After the ceremony, Frances Lechner, communications director for the Yarnell Hill Recovery Group, said the ceremony is a way to show respect and to face the emotions head-on.
“I know some people really want to put things behind them, and I respect that,” Lechner said. “But it’s important to feel the pain and look it right in the eyes.”
Chuck Tidey, president of the Yarnell Hill Recovery Group, said that even three years later, June 30 holds pain for the community. “It’s a tough day. We all remember what we were doing, and it’s probably going to be that way forever,” he said.
The ceremony was moved to the Presbyterian Church from the previously planned site at the Yarnell Hill Fire Memorial Park, because of the threat of rain.
Jack Rauh reported that the park is still under development, and fundraising continues. To date, about $115,000 has been raised, and the committee is working to raise another $100,000.
GMHS Celebration Of Remembrance
Family members, friends and coworkers gathered Thursday, June 30, 2016 at the Arizona Pioneer Home Cemetery for a Celebration of Remembrance for the 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots who died three years ago fighting the Yarnell Hill Fire.