Community mourns heroic ‘hotshot’ crew

Nineteen hotshot firemen lost their lives June 30 battling the fire. Mourners made a makeshift memorial for the firefighters on a chain-link fence across from Granite Mountain Interagency Hot Shot Crew firehouse in Prescott. (J.D. Long-García/CATHOLIC SUN)
Nineteen hotshot firemen lost their lives June 30 battling the fire. Mourners made a makeshift memorial for the firefighters on a chain-link fence across from Granite Mountain Interagency Hot Shot Crew firehouse in Prescott. (J.D. Long-García/CATHOLIC SUN)

PRESCOTT — The chain-link fence on the corner of 6th and East Z streets is covered with photographs and notes and American flags.

The Yarnell Hill fire burned most of the wooden cross on which a large corpus hangs at St. Joseph Shrine. The flames destroyed the gift shop and seared other parts of the Stations of the Cross, which are set up among boulders. (J.D. Long-García/CATHOLIC SUN)
The Yarnell Hill fire burned most of the wooden cross on which a large corpus hangs at St. Joseph Shrine. The flames destroyed the gift shop and seared other parts of the Stations of the Cross, which are set up among boulders. (J.D. Long-García/CATHOLIC SUN)

The 300-foot makeshift memorial honors the 19 hotshot firemen who lost their lives battling the Yarnell Hill fire June 30. Mourners set up 19 steel crosses with 19 roses, left a toy fire truck and statuettes of firefighters and angels.

“We thank you, the Prescott hotshots, for your unselfish actions to protect all of us,” one sign read. “We are praying that the God of all comfort would surround your precious families and friends.”

Prescott residents set up the memorial across the street from the Granite Mountain Interagency Hot Shot Crew firehouse.

Auxiliary Bishop Eduardo A. Nevares celebrated a memorial Mass for the 19 firefighters July 11 at Sacred Heart Parish. Claretian Father Darrin Merlino, interim pastor of the parish, said the firefighters acted out of love.

“We can’t forget the heroes who didn’t lose their lives,” Fr. Merlino said in his homily. “We need to honor those who died, but also those who lived.”

It had been 80 years since so many firefighters died in the United States battling a wild-land blaze. The fast-moving wildfire trapped the crew when the winds shifted, turning the flames toward them.

“They were guys like us who like to drink beer and eat pizza,” Fr. Merlino said. “But they had a selfless love I hope we can one day emulate.”

Two days earlier, Vice President Joe Biden addressed a Prescott Valley arena packed with 6,000 for a memorial service. Of the 19, he said, “Firefighting isn’t what they did. It is who they were.” The vice president praised their families for supporting them in such dangerous work.

Bishop Nevares challenged those gathered at Sacred Heart Parish to “commit in your heart to be there for their families, who are distraught.”

“It is the time to live out the love Christ calls us to,” he said. “May this death bring forth new life in Christ.”

Fr. Raul Lopez, parochial vicar of St Mary Mediatrix Mission in Yarnell, said he “lost everything but my faith” in the fire. The priest’s house and all his belongings burned and he’s now living with the Claretians in Prescott.

While the fire did not reach the mission, it did reach St. Joseph’s Shrine. The fire burned down the shrine gift shop, their storage, maintenance building and meeting area.

The fire also seared parts of the Stations of the Cross, which are set up among boulders. It charred some railing and some of the crosses on which the ceramic stations were hung. The flames destroyed nearly half of the cross on which a large statue of Christ’s corpus is hung. The corpus itself, however, seems relatively undamaged.

Fr. Lopez said he had three words to express to the fallen firemen: thanks, peace and glory.

“Thanks from the bottom of our hearts, peace to your souls,” he said. “And glory forever and ever.”