Originally Published: June 25, 2017 6:03 a.m.
Four years after 19 elite firefighters died battling the Yarnell Hill Fire, bells will chime in three area locations to commemorate the tragedy.
From the Yavapai County Courthouse Plaza, to a church in the town of Yarnell, to the base of the hill where the Granite Mountain Hotshots made their final stand, bells are scheduled to begin ringing at 4:42 p.m., Friday, June 30, to honor the fallen 19.
Organizers say the memorial services at the tragedy’s four-year mark will be solemn and subdued, with two of the three being limited largely to the bell chimes.
Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial State Park
Glenn Schlottman, chief of marketing for Arizona State Parks, said the Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial State Park south of Yarnell is preparing for an influx of traffic this week, as visitors hope to pay their respects.
Arizona State Parks conducted a ceremony honoring the Hotshots in November 2016, when the new park opened. Since then, about 12,000 people have visited the park, Schlottman said.
Along with a trail that honors the individual crew members, the park includes a commemorative display at its entrance along Highway 89, about two miles south of Yarnell.
Schlottman said park rangers would be on hand at the park entrance/trailhead Friday afternoon to ring the bell that is on display there. The bell will begin chiming at 4:42 p.m. Friday, marking the estimated time of the Hotshots’ deaths.
In addition, Schlottman said park rangers are planning to accommodate those who wish to hike the park’s trails.
He stressed that the current hot weather would make hiking the seven-mile roundtrip to the Hotshot fatality site an especially arduous trip, and additional park rangers will be on hand to help hikers.
On the evening of June 29, for instance, rangers plan to be out on the trail to leave containers of water near the benches located along the trail.
“Our priority is keeping people safe,” Schlottman said, noting that rangers would be at the entrance, as well as along the route, and would strive to let hikers know what to expect on the steep and rocky trail.
Featuring a total elevation gain of 1,600 feet, the trail includes an initial 2.85-mile section that takes hikers to an observation deck. Along the way, 19 plaques have been placed at 600-feet intervals to honor the individual Hotshots.
The observation deck overlooks the spot below where the Hotshots died, and from there, the trail drops another three-quarters-mile to the somber site of the Hotshots’ deaths. In all, the hike is a seven-mile roundtrip, and does not have access to water.
The State Parks website urges trail users to dress appropriately and to bring adequate food and water, and plan for a four-hour-plus roundtrip.
While the hike is not handicap accessible, Schlottman said the display area at the parking lot was designed with those unable to make the hike in mind.
Yavapai County Courthouse Plaza
Prescott Fire Chief Dennis Light said the city would commemorate the June 30 date by ringing the bells on the courthouse plaza in downtown Prescott 19 times, beginning at 4:42 p.m.
A news release from the city says attendees are encouraged to assemble on the south side of the plaza to hear the bells. The bell-ringing will culminate with a moment of silence.
In preparation for the day, the city will place a commemorative sign in the location of the planned permanent memorial site on the southeast corner of the plaza.
“We can never say or do enough to show our gratitude for their ultimate sacrifice,” Light said. “We believe this simple yet meaningful remembrance is an appropriate way to honor our fallen.”
Meanwhile, Light said the city already is working on plans for next year’s five-year mark of tragedy. The 2018 memorial likely will include a re-creation of a portion of the tribute fence that surrounded the Sixth Street fire station where the Hotshots were based. Thousands of items were left on the fence in the days after the tragedy to honor the Hotshots, and the items later were preserved and stored by volunteers.
Frances Lechner, communications director for the Yarnell Hill Recovery Group, said the community plans a simple ceremony beginning at 4 p.m. at the Assembly of God Church, 23191 Highway 89, Yarnell.
The service will include remarks from residents who lost their homes in the fire, as well as from participants who were active in fighting the fire, and representatives from both the Yarnell and Peeples Valley Fire District. The family of one of the fallen Hotshots and members of the Yarnell Fire District Cadet program are also expected to participate.
The names of the 19 will be read, beginning at 4:42 p.m., Lechner said.