Buried memories of tragedy resurface for many of us each Memorial Day. I flash back to Yarnell, Arizona in 2013 when nineteen Granite Mountain Hotshot Firefighters, ranging in age from 21 to 43, were trapped and killed in a wildfire.
On June 29, 2013, lightning hit chapparel (scrub oak and dense brush) in a drought-stricken area near Yarnell, Arizona. By June 30, the fire had spread to over 2000 acres of high desert, mountainous terrain. High temperatures (101 degrees) and a surplus of dry brush encouraged the rapid speed of the fire which raged until July 10 when it was declared 100 percent contained.
Over 400 firefighters were deployed to fight this out-of-control wildfire. Nineteen Granite Mountain Hotshot Firefighters, men specially trained to fight fires in the most difficult situations, deployed to the burn area. Erratic winds and thunderstorms caused the fire to suddenly change direction, putting the Hotshots in immediate danger. With no time to escape, they hunkered down in their emergency fire shelters. Unfortunately these shelters were not enough to withstand the intense flames, heat, and lack of oxygen. The fire overtook the men and took their lives.
Soon after, a previously scheduled town meeting turned into the first memorial service. As a chaplain for the nearby Mayer Fire Department, I was asked to offer a few comments and a prayer.
I sat and reflected on the events and the firefighters who lost their lives. In a small
community, everyone knows everyone. So many people around me lost loved ones in that fire.The emotional pain in the room was overwhelming. We were all heartbroken, and my emotions got the best of me. I had nowhere to hide to compose myself, I had to suck it up and go on with many others that night.
I promised myself after that tragedy that I would never let a public servant, fire, police or emergency services worker go without special prayer as they head into danger and risk their lives. The painful, raw emotions of that night by everyone present at that meeting will stay with me forever.
In honor of these brave firefighters, the community developed and dedicated the Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial Park in 2016. Visitors can walk to the trails to visit and remember the sacrifices of those who died there.
#NeverForget the brave firefighters, emergency service workers, and military who serve us and our country. Thank them for their service at every opportunity.