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Arizona to honor 19 firefighters killed by flames 5 years ago

PRESCOTT, Arizona. – Saturday marks five years since the 19 wildland firefighters died in Arizona, engulfed by flames in a brush-choked canyon.

The city of Prescott, north of Phoenix, is honoring them with a service that is a moment of silence at the time of their death, and the ringing of a bell 19 times.

The loss of nearly the entire Granite Mountain Hotshot crew echoed through the whole country, becoming the deadliest day for firefighters since Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The Granite Mountain Hotshots were the only, the elite fire-fighting crew to be bound to a municipal fire department.

Over the years, signs of the men grew up in the vicinity of the communities they fought to protect.

A life-size bronze statue of a wildland firefighter is the beginning of a state park created for the firefighters. A plaque near an alligator juniper tells the story of how the crew saved from the giant tree.

A new leather-and tribute center in Prescott there are thousands of items that people outside of the crew of the fire brigade after they have died, including T-shirts of other AMERICAN fire department. Next year, a sculpture of a wildland firefighter with the backdrop of Granite Mountain will be added to the city’s courthouse plaza.

“Although there is no man-made memorial that could fully capture the true essence and spirit of our Granite Mountain Hotshots, I am confident that this memorial will do justice to their ideas and bring healing and hope for the family and for our community,” Prescott Mayor Greg Mengarelli recently told The Daily Courier newspaper.

Some of the men’s families started organizations to honor their loved ones.

“If anything good has come of this tragedy, is that people are educated about the forest fire of the community, not only the hotshots but smokejumpers, pounders, incident commanders, engine jumpers — the work that they do and the danger that they face,” Deborah Pfingston, one of the firefighters, mothers, recently told The Arizona Republic.

A film released last year, “Only the Brave,” chronicled the wildfire and the men of the last moments.

Investigators never determined exactly what happened. An investigation found fire officials communicated poorly, but the correct procedure is followed. A second fault state officials to put property protection ahead of safety, and said crews should have been pulled earlier.

The Granite Mountain Hotshots were on a ridge that is already burnt before they moved to a canyon where the wind shifted the flames toward them in Yarnell, about 90 miles (145 km) northwest of Phoenix. They deployed fire shelters in a last-ditch attempt to save himself.

They were: Andrew Ashcraft, 29; Robert Caldwell, 23; Travis Carter, 31; Dustin DeFord, 24; Christopher MacKenzie, 30; Eric Marsh, 43; Grant McKee, 21; Sean Misner, 26; Scott Norris, 28; Wade Parker, 22; John Percin Jr., 24; Anthony Rose, 23; Jesse Steed, 36; Joe Thurston, 32; Travis Turbyfill, 27; William Warneke, 25; Clayton Whitted, 28; Kevin Woyjeck, 21; and Garret Zuppiger, 27.

Crosses now mark the places where fire officials found their bodies. Plaques and interpretative signs in the state park mark the track leading to the site, surrounded by rocky cliffs, and the connection of the chain.

Only one of the crew members survived — Brendan McDonough was working as the lookout to a different location.

Prescott decided against the conversion of the crew and later sold to the fire station where it was based.

The wildfire burned nearly 130 homes.

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