Saturday marks five years since 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots were killed fighting the Yarnell Hill Fire. To honor them, the City of Prescott, where the men were based, will unveil a tribute center. It’s very personal. It features biographies and photos of the fallen crew, and thousands of items left by the grieving public at the hotshots’ fire station. In this audio postcard, we hear from some of the people who designed the tribute center.
I’m Katie Cornelius. I’m the curator for the Granite Mountain Interagency Hotshot Crew Learning and Tribute Center and also for the Prescott Fire Department.
The theme of this exhibit is actually “the shirts off their back.” We feature over 500 shirts that were on the tribute fence.
When people would come to Prescott, they would come to the fence and then literally take the shirt off they were wearing and put it on the fence, and most of them are firefighters, I can honestly say about 80 percent are fire departments. So, if we’re looking at this we see Chicago Fire Department with various signatures. So that was very likely a representative who came for the memorial service and then brought a shirt to leave as a remembrance. But then you see Crown King Fire Department—well that’s obviously local.
When you look at hotshots they’re literally willing to give you the shirt off their back. They’re there to protect your home, your business, fighting fire with dirt and shovels. So we wanted to honor them and all firefighters and all the people who came helped out at the time of their deaths by focusing on that one aspect.
I’m Don Devendorf. I’m the division chief and fire marshal with the City of Prescott Fire Department.
When our hotshots were killed on June 30th they were stationed at an ex-gas company building with a fence around it. That’s where they were working out of. And for whatever reason the fence that went around that acre-plus property became a way for people to come and say, “We’re sorry, we feel your loss, we want you to know that we’re thinking about you.” And, well over 1,000 T-shirts and flowers and hand drawn-pictures and ball caps and an unbelievable amount of things just happened.
How are we going to keep their memories alive so they didn’t die in vain? They were professionals, they were doing something, they were protecting something: people property. What kind of person does that? So what can we do to make this educational?
These weren’t just 19 workers that came to town. These were 19 children, and brothers and fathers and sisters and coaches, and spiritual mentors that were part of the community.
I’m John Marsh. And I’m one of the members of one of our board of directors that helped put this together. My son was one of the 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots.
The items that we have that tell the story of each of the 19 hotshots, can acquaint the public about who they are and what they did. There’s little stories about each person that lets us know them personally, and some photos showing them on fires through the years, and that could help people understand who they were and what they were.
To some people it brings back the tragedy afresh each time, but to others, they can look and say, well, something good can come out of a tragedy if people learn and can prevent wildfire damage and future loss, that’s what I think most people can get out of it.
The Granite Mountain Interagency Hotshot Crew Learning and Tribute Center opens Friday at the Prescott Gateway Mall. This audio postcard was produced by KNAU’s Ryan Heinsius.