Granite Mountain Hotshots: Yavapai County ceremony honored fallen firefighters

A ceremony honoring the firefighters lost during a wildfire 11 years ago took place in Prescott on Sunday.

During the ceremony, a memorial sculpture honoring the 19 fallen firefighters with the Granite Mountain Hotshots was dedicated at the Yavapai County Courthouse Plaza.

"It's something we've been working on for 10 years now, and it's been a long journey for everybody, but I hope this project brings a lot of healing, and like our fire chief said, starts the mission of looking forward with a joyous heart," said Patrick McCarty, a former Granite Mountain Hotshot.

"It was both said and very fulfilling to see that the 19 are gonna be honored for many, many years ahead," said John Marsh, whose son, Eric, is one of the 19 fallen hotshot crew members.

"That legacy, that's not just looking backwards," said Prescott Fire Chief Holger Durre. "It's service to others. It's being kind. It's making sure that we try just a little bit harder."

The ceremony was followed by the ringing of the courthouse's bells. The bells rang 19 times, once for each of the fallen firefighters.

The Yarnell Hill Fire burned in 2013. When the fire started, dry lightning had struck a patch of vegetation in steep, mountainous terrain and ignited the fire high on a ridge west of Yarnell, which hadn’t experienced a wildfire in more than 45 years.

Two days later, the Hotshots were battling the wildfire in a box canyon when the winds suddenly shifted and the flames rapidly raced toward them. The 19 men tried to deploy emergency shelters: tent-like structures meant to shield firefighters from the flames and heat.

The gusty, hot winds caused the fire to intensify to more than 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit (1,093 degrees Celsius) and cut off the firefighters’ escape route, killing the men, authorities said.

The only surviving crew member, Brendan McDonough, was posted away from the group as a lookout when the flames overtook the other Hotshots.

The Yarnell Hill Fire, which charred more than 13 square miles (33.6 square kilometers) of land and destroyed 127 buildings, was the deadliest wildland fire since the 1933 Griffith Park Fire in Los Angeles that killed 29 firefighters, and the largest loss of life for firefighters since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Following a three-month investigation, the Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management said it found no evidence of negligence or recklessness by the firefighters. The investigation cited some radio communication problems due to heavy radio traffic and some radios not being programmed with appropriate tone guards.

The Industrial Commission of Arizona, which oversees workplace safety, fined the forestry division $559,000 for not pulling out the Hotshots before the tragedy.

The Associated Press (AP) contributed to this report

Where the courthouse is located