By C. Ron Allen
Amidst the hoopla and revelry this week, a pall hung over the communities of Prescott and Yarnell in Central Arizona.
While many of us were observing the Independence Day festivities by playing with sparklers and watching fireworks, 19 homes were void of a father, a husband, a son or a friend.
Instead of residents waving patriotic red, white and blue ensigns, the flags were flown at half mast.
The tragedy is the worst in a wildfire since 1933, when 29 firemen died battling a fire in Griffin Park, Los Angeles. The biggest loss of firefighters was 341, and two paramedics, in the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001.
I am heartbroken about what happened and my thoughts and prayers go out to the families and residents. This devastating loss is certainly a reminder of the grave risks our firefighters take every day on our behalf and in communities across this nation.
Those heroes lost their lives protecting the community in the face of danger for the betterment of others. The irony here is that the flames hadn’t even touched Prescott, the neighboring town of approximately 40,000 residents. But like many other fire departments across the state, the Prescott team jumped in to help fight the ferocious flames in Yarnell Hill.
This elite group was highly trained, with high standards of fitness.
Each has to pass a test carrying a work pack, as well as run one and a half miles in 10 minutes 35 seconds. They also have to complete 40 sit-ups in 60 seconds, 25 push-ups in 60 seconds, and seven pull-ups.
These were the guys who went out there with 40, 50 pounds of equipment and walked five miles, they slept out there. These were quality people.
“Our common bond is our love of hard work and arduous adventure,” according to the group’s web site.
As I listened to news reports and through my research, I surmised that being a part of the Hotshots is a way into the fire department. They were like the Seals of the United States Navy or the United States Army Special Forces, sometimes referred to as the “Green Berets”, so the victims were young guys – between 21 and 43 – with young kids. That’s what makes it hurt.
I saw photos of the pickup trucks and cars parked at the Hotshots parking lot at Station 7. Most of the owners will never come back for them.
And there was the final photo Andrew Ashcraft, a father-of-four, texted to his wife before perishing in the inferno.
But the tear jerker was an interview with Ashcraft’s heartbroken wife, Juliann.
The couple had been texting each other throughout the day – with him telling her how much he loved and missed her, and how proud he was of their young children – until he abruptly stopped.
‘I asked, “Will you be sleeping out there tonight?”‘ she told the Today show as she struggled to hold back the tears. ‘And of course there was no reply and they all laid out there that night.’
Juliann now has to raise those kids – more so explain to them why daddy isn’t coming home. The toddler will never know his dad.
I am constantly reminded that the life of a firefighter is truly a manifestation of the highest calling, which is to serve humanity. Their investment makes our nation a safer place.
They bravely did their jobs. They paid the ultimate price and their sacrifice will never be forgotten.
Contact C. Ron Allen at firstname.lastname@example.org or 561-665-0151.