It has been two months ago yesterday that 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots lost their lives fighting The Yarnell Hill Wildfire.
Wildfires are part of the Arizona summer. It’s hot and dry and fires in the mountains and desert start easy. It is believed that the Yarnell Hill fire was started by lightning. For our family it’s an ironic twist. The same fire was headed to my brother’s house in Prescott, AZ. In fact he was building a firewall around his house and wetting the area down with the garden hose. The firefighter’s were across the street from his house preparing for the fire. Then the wind shifted. I have heard the term Blow back in the news, describing what happened that day in Prescott. The fire back drafted and changed direction, away from Prescott, and back toward Yarnell.
Those 19 men who lost their lives were doing what they loved. They were an elite group of firefighters. They were Hot Shots. We drove through Yarnell a few days ago. Our family has a favorite spot in Yarnell, The Shrine of St. Joseph. We loved going there to enjoy the solace and peaceful area surrounded by trees and nature. As we drove into Yarnell we saw the damage. It was mind-blowing. I am not celebrating the loss of human life, but I am always taken back by the incredible power of nature. I’ve seen tornadoes, hurricanes, and fire damage, but I’ve never seen anything like this.
As we were driving through town we noticed all the different relief organizations. The Arizona Southern Baptist Association was there, helping and serving the people of Yarnell. There were also many other places set up in town to help.
Just like with a tornado, the fire skipped over places. Some houses were destroyed and others left totally intact.
After driving through town we turned back around and headed to Shrine Road. The Shrine o f St. Joseph is a Catholic Shrine on the mountain and has the Stations of the Cross depicted in marble statues of Jesus. It has always been a serene place to stop. We knew the Shrine had been involved in the fire. We just didn’t know the extent of the damage. It had never been reported on the news how much of the Shrine was damaged. I have to say I was relieved when we pulled up and saw that some of the statues were intact. Some of the handrails were scorched, and burned. Crosses were burned, but the statues of Jesus were intact.
The visitor center and retreat center weren’t as fortunate as the statues and the actual shrine.
But even in midst of destruction there is life. There is hope and the Shrine will be rebuilt.
The town of Yarnell will rebuild, but no one will ever forget. An ordinary road sign that used to show mileage to Yarnell now has another purpose. It now serves as a reminder of those that were lost. Those 19 who will never be forgotten. Those men, firefighters, husbands, brothers, sons, they will never be forgotten. There was one survivor, he was the lookout, and he had been ordered to move the truck, and was doing so as the wind shifted. He is a hero, and his pain will never be forgotten as well.
Since that fateful day in June a baby has been born. The son of one of the firefighters who died that day. His legacy lives on in this new life. This fire took the lives of 19 men, the second largest loss of firefighters since 9/11, and these men will not be forgotten.