Yarnell Hill tragedy: Photographer's hope was to stop time


by Carey Pena


Posted on June 30, 2014 at 6:59 PM

PRESCOTT, Ariz. -- Rhonda Snyder is married to a veteran Prescott firefighter, who had the heart-wrenching task of notifying families after the Granite Mountain Hotshot crew was overrun in the Yarnell Hill Fire.

Snyder didn't know what to do, so she grabbed her camera.

"I remember that day several storms were rolling in. The wind was changing directions," she said.

Asked what she hoped to capture with her camera, she replied, "I was hoping to stop time."

With each passing minute, messages about the tragedy were pouring in on Facebook, and that's where Snyder read about the tribute growing at Prescott Station 7.

"I was hoping to capture that right there and then of who they were and what they were," she said.

Snyder went home and put her camera away until two and a half months later, when she learned the tribute wall was being taken down.

"It felt like they were gone forever when they took that stuff down, and it felt like it was harder to deal with ... ," she said. "Anything I was shooting with my camera was to kind of cope with everything, and I didn't realize my light sensor was broken on my camera, so I had overexposed film."

The film had been through storms and tears. Retired Prescott firefighter Dennis O'Reilly teaches photography at Yavapai Community College. He and Snyder spent 16 weeks working to salvage the images.

O'Reilly told us, "This was not only going to help Rhonda, but this was going to help a lot of other people. This was going to help the whole community."

Snyder explained, "I was able to get 20 magnificent pictures."

She had one picture for each of the fallen firefighters and a 20th to represent the lone survivor. One after another, the images miraculously came to light.

Holding back tears, Snyder explained, "Any photographer knows when you use light and you put in the developer and you wait three minutes to show, and you see Wade Parker's T-Shirt pop up or Dustin DeFord's boots come out of nowhere, I was able to capture them and keep them."

Snyder is getting requests for her pictures to be shown all over the country.