A Tribute

Saturday morning, July 13, 2013, was a picture perfect day and proved to be a glorious day for a day trip to higher elevations. My friend Kent and I drove up to Yarnell, Arizona on Saturday morning to see the fire damages that were wrought upon the town, where many, if not all, of you are aware of the Yarnell (hill) fire that claimed the lives of 19 Granite Mountain Hotshot firefighters from Prescott, AZ. on Sunday, June 30, 2013. 

Yarnell is about 90 miles northwest of Phoenix, about 3000 feet in elevation above our 1500 feet here in The Valley of the Sun. It is a quaint, relatively quiet little town along US Rt. 89 which leads to Prescott, AZ. Lying in a lower, yet cooler mountain locale it is a pleasant village where, in addition to the permanent residents, some from the lower desert have second homes where they can find some respite from the summer heat in the Phoenix area.

With the sky clear, vibrant blue and accented with puffy white clouds, we ascended the mountain and then began to see the blackened areas where the fire had raged. Then upon reaching the top and coming around the bend into Yarnell, the damages became more apparent. Of first note, besides the visual devastation that beheld our sight, was the pervasive and lingering odor of burnt wood. That smell never left us during our visit and excursion in Yarnell.

Upon entering the town, next to the Ranch House Restaurant, an impromptu memorial has been erected to honor those 19 brave souls. This is not the spot where those men perished, as that is across the highway where they were caught in the thick of the raging inferno. Upon the memorial is etched "Esse Quam Videri", a Latin phrase translated as "To be, rather than to seem (to be)". Searches on the internet provided me with some clearer meaning for us in the 21st Century. The phrase can be interpreted as "sincerity of purpose", "to be authentic, genuine, not a fake" or, to me this is the best understanding "You can't just act like you are doing something, you have to actually to do it, and mean it." That sums up what we have since learned of this group of dedicated and authentic men who not only talked the talk, but walked the walk. This spot of remembrance was one of reverence, reflection and, yes, genuine emotion. 

As Kent and I managed to get back into some of the neighborhoods, we were struck by the damages, the hit and miss pattern of the fire, the line of delineation where fire retardant and vegetation cut back prevented some spread of the fire, the total destruction of some places, while next door homes still stood, unscathed by the flames. 

After having gotten off the side streets and up into the wilderness and boulders on foot, it struck me that 19 men gave their all to help protect residents from a fire that could easily have taken their lives and homes. Indeed, those brave young men gave the ultimate sacrifice.

Though the side streets were supposed to be closed to all but residents, we did manage to enter one street and then found some devastating sights as people were sifting through the ashes of their homes, were working to salvage what they could and were already cleaning up and clearing the debris fields. I chatted briefly with a couple of people who looked saddened, yet defiant and with a resolve in their eyes to pick up and carry on.

In our short drive, we did locate friend's Bill and Bob's second home, which luckily was intact. Yet, nearby, streets were marked with homes turned to charred remains. 

There is a Catholic shrine up in the boulders, nearest to the fire's edge, The Shrine to St. Joseph of the Mountains, which was not untouched by the blaze. Some of the 12 stations of the cross were extensively damaged, others lightly, some remained unscathed. The sight of the Christ on the Cross station was especially striking and, if one is religious, can have some poignant meaning or significance reflecting sacrifice for others. Specks of the red fire retardant were lightly sprinkled over the white marble statues, adding another dimension of poignancy to the charred hillside and shrine. It was obvious that the fire retardant had been sprayed at the upper edge of the shrine, most likely in attempts to protect it. Yet the shrine's gift shop at street level burned to the ground as did a few nearby homes.  

While on a back street, viewing and photographing, I recognized a friend, Bill who lives in Yarnell, as he drove by. Upon greeting him, I learned his home had escaped the fires, while his friends homes, before which we stood, were ashes and rubble. In our brief chat, Bill informed me that earlier on that fateful Sunday, the fire appeared to be of no alarming threat to the townspeople. At around 4 p.m. that guarded optimism spun on it's heals, just as did the fire when the winds abruptly did an about face and then, with a much higher velocity roared toward the town. There was little time to collect much more than what they wore and that which could hurriedly thrown into vehicles as they fled the spreading and searing hot flames.

Though we only saw a small portion of the damages from this fire, it was more than enough to etch not only visual images, but emotional ones in my brain as well. This was a very moving experience for both Kent and I. 

Despite the perils many have endured, the heartbreak of the loss and destruction, Bill assured me that the townspeople were resilient, were adamant in remaining and that they WOULD recover and rebuild. Though he was speaking individually, it was heartening to hear of their collective resolve. What a great honor to those who died and to ALL those who fought to protect the people who live on Yarnell Hill, Glen IIah and Peeple's Valley, than to now roll up THEIR sleeves, clear the debris and begin anew.

I have made a 8 ½ minute video slideshow of our visit to Yarnell. To access it click on this link:   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OmXxGGECwxA