Four years after Granite Mountain Hotshot tragedy, questions remain on local museum

Preserving memory of fallen Hotshots

The return of the Granite Mountain Hotshots' "buggies" to Prescott drew a large crowd July 4, 2013, honoring the 19 firefighters killed in the Yarnell Hill fire. The buggy is the crew's mode of transportation to and from fires and acts as a mobile command post/work station for the team while they are at base camp.

Wade Ward/Courtesy photo

The return of the Granite Mountain Hotshots' "buggies" to Prescott drew a large crowd July 4, 2013, honoring the 19 firefighters killed in the Yarnell Hill fire. The buggy is the crew's mode of transportation to and from fires and acts as a mobile command post/work station for the team while they are at base camp.

On the four-year mark of the Granite Mountain Hotshot tragedy, the buggies that transported the elite firefighters to their final mission are scheduled to leave town, and the fire station they called home is on the market.

For some family members and local residents, that raises the question: Should Prescott have its own museum or visitor center to preserve the memory of the 19 fallen Hotshots?

Over the past several months, actions by the City of Prescott have brought the question to the forefront.

For instance, the Prescott City Council agreed in May to sell the two crew buggies used by the Hotshots to the County of Los Angeles Fire Museum for $25,000, with one of the vehicles going to L.A., and the other to the Phoenix Hall of Flame Fire Museum.

In addition, Fire Station 7, the former home of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, was listed for sale by the city earlier this month, with a bid deadline of Thursday, June 29.

City officials reported late Thursday that two bids were received by the deadline, and a decision on whether to sell is expected to go to the City Council in late July/early August.

Meanwhile, the artifacts that grieving residents and family members placed on the Station 7 fence after the 19 Hotshots died fighting the June 2013 Yarnell Hill Fire are scheduled to be moved to a new location for storage.

photo

Prescott Fire Department Station 7 with a memorial banner on the fence. (File photo)

Prescott location?

In the midst of all of the transition, city officials say they still are open to the idea of a museum or visitor center — if the push for the project were to come from the community.

“The long-term goal is to find a permanent home (for the tribute-fence artifacts), and the city is willing to work with stakeholders from the community on that,” John Heiney, community outreach manager, said Thursday.

Prescott Fire Chief Dennis Light agreed. He noted that the L.A. museum’s purchase agreement provides that the second vehicle would be returned to Prescott from Phoenix if and when the community has a proper place to display it.

Currently, Light said, the location for such a display is still uncertain, and the push for a local display or museum would need to come from the public.

The sale of the buggies, as well as the possible sale of the fire station, were prompted by the city’s $78 million unfunded liability with the public safety pension system (PSPRS). To help pay down the shortfall, city officials identified surplus property that could be sold.

Buggies moving on

The two Hotshot buggies are scheduled to make one last Prescott appearance at a June 30 private memorial for the families, Light said, before being transported to their new locations.

Some Hotshot family members will commemorate the tragedy today by helping to drive one of the buggies to Phoenix — via Highway 89 past Yarnell Hill, where the Hotshots died.

Los Angeles County Fire Museum Vice President Joe Woyjeck, the father of fallen Hotshot Kevin Woyjeck, said Thursday that museum representatives would be on hand in Prescott Friday to load the other buggy onto a trailer for its trip to California. The first stop will be at a Cerritos fire station, where a 24-hour vigil for the Hotshots takes place each year.

From there, Woyjeck said, the buggy will be transported to the fire museum in Bellflower, where it will stand until it is moved into the museum’s soon-to-be-completed 27,000-square-foot facility.

Woyjeck, who spearheaded the purchase of the buggies, said he envisions a permanent display of the buggy “with a light in the back that burns 24/7.”

Future Hotshot museum

While opinions vary on location, a Hotshot museum or visitor center also has support among family members and those involved with the preservation of artifacts.

Karen Norris, the mother of fallen Hotshot Scott Norris, said she would like to see a center in Prescott where people can come and view the artifacts from the fence, and remember the Hotshots.

“I think it’s important to have a place in Prescott where people can come,” she said. Although noting that Arizona State Parks opened a park to honor the Hotshots this past fall, Norris added: “We have the beautiful state park, but that’s in Yarnell, and (the park’s trail is) very rigorous.”

With the Station 7 building possibly in line for sale, she added, “Personally, I don’t see that it necessarily has to be at Station 7. But I would love to see something, and I am willing to jump in and help whenever I can.”

Dottie Morris and Jan Monroe, the two volunteer directors of the Tribute Fence Preservation Project, also are hopeful that a Hotshot museum will come to fruition, and they maintain that Station 7 would be the perfect spot for it.

“I think it’s paramount to save it,” Monroe said this week of the fire station. “Their spirit is there.” Added Morris: “This is who they are and where they worked.”

Morris and Monroe were among the dedicated group of volunteers that spent months in 2013 and 2014 — first taking down the artifacts from the fence, then cataloging and storing them, and ultimately helping prepare a Granite Mountain Hotshot Virtual Museum (www.prescottlibrary.info/tfpp and azmemory.azlibrary.gov/cdm/landingpage/collection/pgmh).

There was an expectation among the group that the artifacts would one day be displayed in a museum, they say.

“Our town owes it to (the Hotshots) and owes it to the volunteers who really thought they were doing something museum-quality,” Monroe said.

Norris agrees with city officials that any museum effort should come from the community, and she is optimistic about the future prospects.

“I trust that it’s going to happen,” she said, noting that the community has shown love and support from the beginning.

“It’s always been my contention that this didn’t just happen to us,” she said of the Hotshot tragedy. “It happened to the whole community; it happened to Prescott.”

Follow Cindy Barks on Twitter @Cindy_Barks. Reach her at 928-445-3333, ext. 2034, or cbarks@prescottaz.com.

Related Stories