July 3, 2013

Letter: ‘The finest people you’ll ever meet’

— On Sunday, 19 of the elite 20-member Prescott, Ariz. “Granite Mountain Hotshots” firefighting crew were killed in an Arizona wildfire. Known for battling the region’s worst fires, they had recently spent weeks fighting fires in New Mexico and Prescott.

So, as a heat wave across the Southwest sent temperatures into the triple digits, they hiked into the smoky wilderness over the weekend with chain saws and backpacks stuffed with heavy gear to remove brush and trees as they fought the lightning-sparked fire that encompassed more than 8,000 acres, destroyed at least 50 structures and threatened 500 people in the small town of Yarnell.

It was the most firefighters killed battling a wildfire in the United States since 1933. The average age of the men in the crew was only 22.

Of the firefighters who all were part of his city’s fire department, an emotional Fire Chief Dan Fraijo said it plainly, “We just lost 19 of the finest people you’ll ever meet.”

My heart goes out to the Prescott Fire Department and its families. They have suffered a devastating loss, one that I hope our own community never has to experience.

Whether it’s a structure, a vehicle or woodlands, fighting fires is dangerous work, and the risk is well-known to the brave men and women who don their gear daily, 24/7, and battle the flames. And I, for one, am very proud of the men and women that protect us here locally.

The next time you see a fire truck headed down the road, lights flashing and siren wailing, say a simple prayer for these wonderful men and women. For each and everyone is truly a hero, highly-skilled professionals who selflessly put themselves in harm’s way to protect the lives and property of their neighbors and fellow citizens, many of which they have never so much as met. These guys and gals are my heroes, for sure, and without a doubt some of the finest people you’ll ever meet.

“When a tragedy like this strikes, all we can do is offer our eternal gratitude to the fallen, and prayers for the families and friends left behind. God bless them all.” — Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer

Barry D. Jennings