Nineteen members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, based in Prescott, Ariz., were killed Sunday when a windblown wildfire overcame them north of Phoenix.
It was the deadliest single day for U.S. firefighters since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Fourteen of the victims were in their 20s.
Here are the stories of those who died:
Andrew Ashcraft, 29, was remembered by Prescott High School and coach Lou Beneitone, who taught many of the Hotshots. Beneitone recalls Ashcraft as a fitness-oriented student. "He had some athletic ability in him and he was a go-getter, too. You could pretty much see, from young freshman all the way, he was going to be physically active," and athletic prowess was a must for the Hotshots.
Robert Caldwell, 23, was characterized by friends as the smart man in the bunch.
"He was really smart, he had a good sense of humour," said Chase Madrid, who worked as a Hotshot for two years, but sat this year out. "He … could get the weather, figure out the mathematics. It was just natural for him," Madrid said.
Travis Carter, 31, was known at Captain CrossFit, a gym near the firehouse where the Hotshots were stationed, as the strongest one out of the crew — but also the most humble. "No one could beat him," trainer Janine Pereira said. "But the thing about him, was he would never brag about it. He would just kill everyone and then go and start helping someone else finish."
Dustin DeFord, 24, tried out for the Hotshot crew in January 2012. He moved to Arizona from Montana after he was hired, and he worked to improve his skills on the climbing wall at a gym near the firehouse. "You would say something to him, and he would respond with a crack, which was funny because he was so shy," said trainer Janine Pereira.
Some followed the family firefighter path
Chris MacKenzie, 30, like at least one other member of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, had followed his father into firefighting. MacKenzie, "lived life to the fullest … and was fighting fire just like his dad," longtime friend Dav Fulford-Brown, also a former firefighter, told The Riverside Press-Enterprise.
Eric Marsh, 43, became hooked on firefighting while studying biology at Arizona State University, said Leanna Racquer, the ex-wife of his cousin. After college, he kept working as a firefighter, eventually landing a full-time job and settling in northern Arizona. He even moved his parents to the state, she said. Marsh was superintendent of the Hotshot crew and the oldest of the 19 who died.
Grant McKee, 21, loved to give things away. "Even as a child, I'd ask him where things were, and he'd say, 'Oh such-and-such liked it.' And sometimes it really cost a lot! But he'd say, `Oh he liked it so much,"' said his grandmother, Mary Hoffmann. "So on his birthday, I started to say, 'I hope you're going to keep this!"' she said.
Sean Misner, 26, leaves behind a wife who is seven months pregnant, said Mark Swanitz, principal of Santa Ynez Valley Union High School in Santa Barbara County, where Misner graduated in 2005. Misner played varsity football and also participated in the school's sports medicine program where he wrapped sprained ankles and took care of sidelined athletes. "He was a team player, a real helper," Swanitz told The Associated Press on Monday.
Scott Norris, 28, was known around Prescott through his part-time job at Bucky O'Neill Guns. "Here in Arizona the gun shops are a lot like barbershops. Sometimes you don't go in there to buy anything at all, you just go to talk," said resident William O'Hara. "I never heard a dirty word out of the guy. He was the kind of guy who if he dated your daughter, you'd be OK with it."
Wade Parker, at 22, had just joined the Hotshots team. His father works for the nearby Chino Valley Fire Department, said retired Prescott Fire Department Capt. Jeff Knotek, who had known Wade since he was "just a little guy." The younger Parker had been very excited about being part of the Hotshot crew, Knotek said. "He was another guy who wanted to be a second-generation firefighter," Knotek said. "Big, athletic kid who loved it, aggressive, assertive and in great shape."
Some were daredevils, all showed strength
John Percin Jr., 24, loved baseball and had an unforgettable laugh. In his aunt's eyes, he was, simply, "an amazing young man." "He was probably the strongest and bravest young man I have ever met in my life," Donna Percin Pederson said in an interview with The Associated Press from her home in Portland, Ore.
Anthony Rose, 23, was one of the youngest victims. He grew up in Wisconsin and previously worked as a firefighter in nearby Crown King before moving on to become a Hotshot. Retired Crown King firefighter Greg Flores said Rose "just blossomed in the fire department. He did so well and helped so much in Crown King. We were all so very proud of him."
Jesse Steed's former colleagues remember the 36-year-old as a joker. "He was a character. If you look at all the old photos of him, he was doing things to make people laugh," said Cooper Carr, who worked with Steed in the Hotshots from 2001 to 2003. "He was good at impressions, and he sang songs; he was just great for morale."
Joe Thurston, 32,used to go to an area reservoir with friends back home in Utah. "He was definitely one of the daredevil types," longtime friend Scott Goodrich told the Salt Lake Tribune. "We went to Quail [Creek] Reservoir, and we'd be finding 40- to 50-foot cliffs that people would be scared to jump off. He would just show up and be front-flipping off of them."
Travis Turbyfill, 27,got a full-time position with the Hotshots when another member's girlfriend asked him to quit. Tony Burris, a trainer who knew him from an area gym, said he enjoyed watching "Turby" with his two daughters. "Because he's this big, huge marine, Hotshot guy, and he has two little girls, reddish, blond curly hair, and they just loved their dad," he said.
They all leave behind families
Billy Warneke, 25, and his wife, Roxanne, were expecting their first child in December. He was a four-year Marine Corps veteran who served a tour in Iraq and had joined the hotshot crew in April, buying a property in Prescott, near where his sister lived.
Clayton Whitted, 28, is remembered by his former Prescott High School coach remembers as a "wonderful kid" who always had a big smile on his face. Whitted played for the football team as an offensive and defensive lineman. "He was a smart young man with a great personality," said Lou Beneitone.
Kevin Woyjeck, 21, viewed the fire station as a second home. His father, Capt. Joe Woyjeck, is a nearly 30-year veteran of the Los Angeles County Fire Department. Keith Mora, an inspector with that agency, said Kevin often accompanied his dad to the station and on ride-alongs, and always intended to follow in his footsteps. "He wanted to become a firefighter like his dad and hopefully work hand-in-hand," Mora said Monday.
Garret Zuppiger, 27, loved to be funny, said Tony Burris, a trainer at a gym where many of the Hotshots worked out. Burris said the two bonded over their hyper-manly ginger facial hair. "We both had a red beard, and so we would always admire each other's beards," he said. "We also had a few conversations about beer."
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