Originally Published: June 27, 2018 6 a.m.
Editor’s note: This column is an abbreviated version of the one written after the loss of 19 Hotshot firefighters in Yarnell.
In Yarnell, the tips of the flames contain whatever the fire relentlessly declares is done. That transitional point at the top of a flame, where the glow gives out and the smoke arises, contains the memory of whatever it has touched. The smoke of a forest that the fire says its time is done. The ashes of homes that it says can’t be anymore. The dreams of those who planned many more years in those homes.
In Yarnell, the smoke contained the souls of 19 men.
Men in amazing condition, able to do a physical task most of us cannot imagine, doing a hard and challenging and dangerous job. Men of whom the fire declared that their time is done.
Souls rising with the smoke. The smoke of a forest, rising and dispersing into the air, then settling to the ground, settling in places across this territory, still with us but not in the same form. Just as those men will never leave the hearts and memories and thoughts of their loved ones, but cannot be with us in the same way anymore.
Many of these men came from the Prescott area. In a community of this size, many of us will be touched by this tragedy -- those who know one of the families, or know of them once removed; those on the forested edges of Prescott who have had their homes saved by the firefighters before, or know their homes are in that danger zone and are dependent on, and grateful to, the firefighters. Most of all, those closest to those lost, the parents and siblings, the spouses and children.
Some were not from the Prescott area but came here from other parts of the country for the job of fighting wildfires. Their families are now part of our family of grief. We offer our support to them as well.
Should we not put men in harm’s way like this? Is the problem those homes that are in such areas? No. People would have to abandon much of the West to avoid living in forests and grasslands. Wildfires, if not fought as best we can, only grow, requiring yet more firefighters. The fighting of wildfires are a part of living in the West. These men were doing a crucial job.
It comes with great danger, though, and now we have these precious souls rising with the smoke. The very ground still steams and smokes with mourning. Waves of smoke rising from the ground; waves of mourning rising from households across this community.
What can we do but grieve? To feel that mourning. To talk to one another. Talk in order to comfort one another. Talk of the shock, of the pain, of the people who were lost. To begin to move forward through the grief. For some who are lightly touched by this, there is grief, and then life goes on. For those closest to such a loss, the course of grief doesn’t so much end as arrive at a new reality. Life carrying on, moving forward, but without a loved one.
Time won’t let us stop. There is no choice but to feel that mourning. To walk forward into the grief toward its other side. The entire community begins that walk together. We can offer our arms to support those heaviest with that mourning. The small comfort of the companionship of the community.
For those closest to the lost, we mourn with you. As you begin the journey of moving forward through your grief, we offer our arms for support. As you walk, we walk with you.
Tom Cantlon is a local business owner and writer and can be reached at comments at tomcantlon.com.