U.S. firefighters pause in honor

Lynn Paupore walks along a makeshift memorial withher grandchildren outside the Hotshot crew's fire stationin Prescott, Ariz.
Lynn Paupore walks along a makeshift memorial withher grandchildren outside the Hotshot crew's fire stationin Prescott, Ariz. (JULIE JACOBSON / Associated Press)

Across the nation, crews were paying tribute to the 19 fallen. "We don't forget."

Posted: July 05, 2013

YARNELL, Ariz. - Hundreds of firefighters battling a blaze outside the mountain town of Yarnell came off the line Wednesday to salute a procession of fire vehicles that had been left by 19 elite Hotshot crew members killed in the line of duty.

The firefighters and law enforcement gathered along a highway to honor the Prescott-based unit. The vehicles were driven by fellow Prescott firefighters. One of the trucks held backpacks, water jugs, and coolers. Another was emblazoned with the group's motto, in Latin: "To be, rather than to seem."

Gov. Jan Brewer said she would fly Arizona flags at half-staff for 19 days for each firefighter lost.

Fire crews across the nation planned to pause throughout the day to remember the Granite Mountain Hotshots and recognize the dangers firefighters face, said Jim Whittington, spokesman for the Southwest Incident Command Team.

"One of the things that defines the entire wildland firefighting community is we don't forget," he said.

In the biggest loss of U.S. firefighters since 9/11, violent wind gusts Sunday turned what was believed to be a manageable lightning-ignited forest fire in the town of Yarnell into a death trap that left no escape for the team of Hotshots, most of them in the prime of their lives.

The last investigators of the nine-member team charged with finding out what went wrong were briefed Wednesday after their arrival. The investigation will include examining radio logs, the fire site, and weather reports. They will also talk to the sole survivor of the blaze, the lookout who had warned his fellow firefighters and friends that the wildfire was switching directions and heading straight for them.

Nearly 600 firefighters are fighting the blaze, which has burned about 13 square miles. Hundreds were evacuated and crews erected perimeters around the homes.

The fire remained 8 percent contained Wednesday, but officials expected that to grow by day's end. The hope is to allow residents back into their homes over the weekend and contain the fire by next Friday.

The number of destroyed homes and structures stood at 129 in the latest tally released Wednesday by the Yavapai County Sheriff's Office. Officials earlier had provided varying estimates ranging from 50 to 250 homes and other buildings lost in Yarnell, a town of about 700 people.

Reporters were allowed into a section of the fire area, where charred pine trees resembled burned toothpicks sticking out of the hillsides.

Only one member of the crew, identified Tuesday as lookout Brendan McDonough, 21, survived. After radioing others about the growing danger, McDonough made it to safety, while the rest were overtaken by the blaze.

"He did exactly what he was supposed to," said Wade Ward, who urged the media to respect McDonough's privacy. "He's trying to deal with the same things that we're all trying to deal with."

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