Thousands mourn at vigil for Granite Mountain Hotshots

July 3, 2013 at 7:30 AM
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PRESCOTT, Ariz., July 3 (UPI) -- Thousands of people attended a vigil in Prescott, Ariz., for the 19 elite firefighters who died Sunday when the Yarnell Hill fire turned on them.

John Dickerson, who hosted Tuesday's "Heroes: Community Response to the Yarnell Fire Tragedy," told the crowd of more than 5,000 that, for years to come, people would be told about the heroics of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, the The (Prescott) Daily Courier reported.

"We will tell their children for years to come, 'Your daddy, he was a hero,'" Dickerson said.

"To friends and families of the 19 heroes, your loved ones laid down their lives in the ultimate expression of their love for you," he told the crowd. "And tonight, you are loved by your community."

Each of the fallen hotshot's names was read and 19 purple balloons were released into the skies, the Courier said.

"Purple is the color for fallen firefighters," Dickerson said.

Just as the balloons, he said, "our brothers have been cut loose from the troubles of this world, to rise to Heaven. And Heaven's gain is truly our loss."

The Arizona Republic in Phoenix said interviews with wildfire experts indicate the crew was following protocol -- flanking the fire, keeping in contact with commanders and a spotter, and observing weather conditions -- when the fire shifted after a sudden change in wind direction and speed.

Investigators from across the nation Tuesday began assembling details of the Granite Mountain crew's deployment and activities. Florida State Forester Jim Karels leads the formal investigation, the Arizona State Forestry Division said.

The examination will review weather and fire department records, radio logs and other evidence.

The Maricopa County medical examiner was expected to finish autopsying the victims by late this week. Cari Gerchick, a Maricopa County spokeswoman, said the process could be delayed if checks of dental records, DNA and fingerprint are needed to make a positive identification of any victim.

An honor guard kept vigil over the fallen firefighters at the medical examiner's facility, officials said.

Although investigations have just begun, Jim Paxon, a state Department of Game and Fish spokesman, told the Republic the Yarnell Hill Fire seemed to challenge reasonable predictions.

"In my heart of hearts, and as a fireman, I don't see how they did something out of the norm," Paxon said. "Certainly not cavalier, not reckless."

"People who don't know fire draw faulty conclusions," said Paxon, who helped found Arizona's Wildfire and Incident Management Training Academy in Prescott. "Those who want to play armchair quarterback need to put on the boots and put on the pack and go over the hill."

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