7/2/2013 8:04:00 AM Community pays tribute to fallen Prescott firefighters
Mourners grieve Monday in Prescott for the 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots who perished Sunday evening in the Yarnell Hill fire.
Photo courtesy Matt Hinshaw/The Daily Courier
Ann Haley places flowers in the fence surrounding Prescott Fire Station 7, the headquarters for the Granite Mountain Hotshots.
Photo courtesy Scott Orr/Daily Courier
Prescott Valley Tribune
PRESCOTT - One by one, tentatively, almost timidly, they approach the fence.
They carry all kinds of mementos to place in or near it: small U.S. flags, sympathy cards, flowers, balloons, hats, even firefighting gear.
And a large painted sign: "Heroes."
This is Prescott's communal goodbye and homegrown memorial to the 19 men of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, killed while fighting the Yarnell Hill fire Sunday evening. The fence surrounds Prescott Fire Station 7, home to the unit.
Under the watchful eye of a police volunteer, people have been coming to the station to try to make sense of something that is senseless: the death of a crew of firefighters routinely referred to as "elite."
Some break down as they place their items carefully into the chain link. Others simply look numb.
Duane Oliver knew four of the men who died. He worked as a contractor for Prescott Fire almost a decade ago, he said, and met the firefighters before they became hotshots.
"It's tough. They were really good guys," Oliver said, fighting back tears. "They put their lives on the line for people they don't even know, people they've never met."
Other mourners simply needed to find a way to express their grief.
Ann Haley placed flowers and small flags on the fence "just to honor their memory. I know it's not much," she said, but she was moved to commemorate them.
"It seems impossible that it could have happened," she said, unwrapping more flowers.
"I think too often the public doesn't understand what they truly do and the dangers that come with it."
Haley threaded the flowers carefully, lovingly, though the chain link fence, sometimes stopping to make small adjustments.
She stepped back to look at the flowers and, satisfied, was finished.
One sympathy card left with a bouquet of red, white, and blue flowers said, "Thank you heroes. Thoughts and prayers go out to the families."
Another was sealed in an envelope marked simply, "Prescott."
A man quietly walked up, threaded a tool into the fence and just as quietly walked away.
"They're just these beautiful, strong men and they have the biggest hearts in the entire world," Courtney Wagner said of the firefighters, as she looked at the growing memorial. "I don't think there's one person in this community who doesn't know someone affected by this fire."
Wagner said she knew several of the hotshots from her church, and smiled, remembering the way one of them "doesn't shake hands - he gives you a hug."
Oliver takes solace in the way people have pulled together.
"It just shows the strength in the communities," he said. "Prescott's always had a really, really strong bond. It's really awesome."