Granite Mountain Hotshots: 10th anniversary of Yarnell Hill Fire

Ten years ago on June 30, 2013, Yarnell was a very different place… desolate, destroyed by one of the deadliest wildfires in the country.

Hundreds of residents were evacuated, and 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots lost their lives because of the fire's rapid spread and erratic behavior.

"So I was just up here working on my place and I had only owned it for three months, so it kind of was a shock," Rick Engels said.

Engels says he left town on Saturday, June 29.

"We were all evacuated for about a week before we were able to come, so we really didn't know if our houses were standing or not," he said.

"People would call me and say, ‘Chuck, is my house still standing?’ So I'd have the constables take me around because the people here fighting didn't know the town, so I could tell people, ‘Yes, your house was standing. No, it isn’t,'" Chuck Tidey said.

Tidey was chamber president. He stayed behind, keeping watch. 

"We lost no citizens, not even injuries, but they lost everything," he said.

The tragedy did not end with the loss of the 19 hotshots in the Weaver Mountains – 127 homes burned, and all of them were destroyed. This community, known as Glen Ilah, was perhaps hit the hardest. 

Linda Ma is one of the people who lost everything.

"The lightning strike was just up over there," she said. "You could see the flames right where those boulders are, just over there, and I go, ‘It’s time to go.'"


19 Granite Mountain hotshots remembered a decade after the tragedy

June 30 marks 10 years since a tragedy in Arizona took the lives of 19 Granite Mountain hotshots while they were fighting the Yarnell Hill Fire in northern Arizona.

Ma packed what she could and headed down the hill.

"I just went into emergency mode, do what I had to do and making sure my neighbors got out. That where we help each other out, cause you know, and that made a difference, how everybody helped everybody out, and just exiting, allowing each car to get out, that was amazing itself," she said. "That was kind of the first sense of what I call "heart connection," that people allowed here because there’s only that way or that we had nowhere to go so and how everybody came together, and we formed the Yarnell Hill Recovery Group." 

"One thing we've always stressed with the recovery group is it's a recovery group, we don't talk about the fire and why it was let go," Tidey said. 

The group met multiple times a week, offering support, encouragement, and whatever was needed to rebuild.

"So we've rebuilt, we've got about two-thirds of the homes that burned rebuilt," Tiday said. "We had 10 uninsured homes – because we had enough donations come in, we were able to rebuild those homes free of charge for them. Basically, we gave the people what they had before except newer."

Engels says he was lucky, as damage to his property was minimal.

"Everything through here got gutted out, so this is new, mine is new," Ma said.


Granite Mountain Hotshots: Sole survivor attends event at learning and tribute center

It has been 10 years since a wildfire took the lives of 19 Granite Mountain Hotshot firefighters, and on June 29, a day before the 10-year anniversary of the tragedy, a commemoration event attended by the sole survivor of the tragedy took place in the Prescott area.

It took Ma three years to deal with insurance and rebuild.

"After the fire, everybody, if you needed something, somebody could help you," she said. "United Way came through with a warehouse up in Prescott. All kinds of stuff people offered – they sent truckloads of stuff to get stuff to help us."

That is what Ma says created a sense of what she calls "heart connection." It took Yarnell from tragedy to recovery.

"It's like the growth is coming back," she said. "It's 10 years, it's just really coming in full bloom now."