Photo by Cindy Barks.
Originally Published: June 26, 2018 6:02 a.m.
The familiar orange-and-purple logo serves notice to mall visitors: The new Granite Mountain Interagency Hotshot Crew Learning and Tribute Center is a storefront of a different sort.
Alongside the department stores and boutiques of the Prescott Gateway Mall, the logo stands out amid a display of yellow-and-olive firefighter gear.
This week, after months of preparation, the new center that pays tribute to Prescott’s 19 fallen Granite Mountain Hotshots is ready to open to the public.
A ribbon cutting will take place at noon Friday, June 29 — a day before the five-year mark of the Yarnell Hill tragedy.
Inside, the 4,600-square-foot space that previously served as the Foot Locker store offers a step back in time to the weeks after June 30, 2013, when 19 of the Granite Mountain Hotshot crew died fighting the Yarnell Hill Fire.
Lining the walls are about 500 T-shirts from fire departments all over the country, while the interior features kiosks that commemorate each of the fallen 19.
Other displays provide information about the Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial State Park, as well as 2017’s “Only the Brave” movie that told the Hotshots’ story.
MONTHS OF WORK
The opening is the culmination of more than 1,000 hours of work in recent months by the Granite Mountain Interagency Hotshot Creek Learning and Tribute Center board members and volunteers, say organizers.
Before that, a group of Tribute Fence Preservation Project volunteers had spent thousands hours more removing, preserving and cataloguing the 5,000 or so items that the grieving community had placed on the fence surrounding the Hotshots’ home at Fire Station 7 on Sixth Street.
The news media got a preview of the center on Monday, June 25. Prescott Fire Chief Dennis Light told the group that the plans for the Learning and Tribute Center had started about year ago and had progressed through the months.
“What you see today is really the culmination of five or six months of activity, getting us to our eventual grand opening on Friday at noon,” Light said.
A center to memorialize the fallen Granite Mountain Hotshots has long been a goal of a group of family members and local residents.
But, as the four-year mark of the Hotshot tragedy approached in 2017, that objective seemed far in the distance.
At that point, the city was working to sell the Hotshots’ home fire station, as well as the two buggies that had transported the elite wildland firefighters to their assignments.
Meanwhile, the 5,000 or so commemorative items that the grieving community had placed on the fence surrounding the Hotshots’ Station 7 in the weeks after the June 2013 tragedy remained stored away.
Still, a group of dedicated volunteers and family members saw an opportunity for a memorial center. Over the past 10 months or so, the group pushed forward — meeting initially in August 2017, and appointing a board in about November.
For family members, the effort has been worthwhile, but difficult.
“It’s rewarding, but yet as a parent, it can have its emotional impact,” John Marsh, the father of fallen Hotshot Superintendent Eric Marsh said, at Monday’s media preview.
Karen Norris, the mother of fallen Hotshot Scott Norris, had a similar experience.
“Working to get this center ready has often been difficult for me,” she said. “It can be painful to constantly confront photos of my son and his fellow Hotshots, and to read and think about that horrible day — June 30, 2013.”
Norris, a board member for the project, added: “However, it is a worthy project, and a necessary one, and I am very happy to declare that Prescott now has a place that honors the Hotshots, teaches about wildland fire and firefighting, and raises consciousness about fire prevention.”
Marsh, who serves as chairman of the center’s board, noted that the display not only pays tribute to the Hotshots, but also serves as an educational center. Over time, he expects the center “to lean more toward learning and education.”
While the mall location is a first step, the board hopes to ultimately find a permanent spot for the Learning and Tribute Center.
Katie Cornelius, volunteer curator for the center, said the current display represents about 10 percent of the preserved items. Organizers plan to rotate items in the coming months.
As a part of Friday’s opening, Light said one of the Hotshot crew buggies would be on hand at the mall. The Prescott Gateway Mall is located at 3280 Gateway Blvd., and the Learning and Tribute Center is near the mall’s Dillard’s store.