Firefighter who was at Yarnell Hill recalls tragedy, aftermath

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

PRESCOTT, Ariz. -- When the thunderstorm collapsed over Yarnell, Prescott Battalion Chief Cory Moser was there, not far from the Granite Mountain Hotshots.

"Fifteen years of firefighting and I've never seen behavior like that," Moser said of the fire.

Moser lost four buildings he was defending, but then got the news that it was so much worse than anyone had ever imagined.

"We knew all these people personally and knew what deploying means," he said.

Moser was talking about the Granite Mountain Hotshots, who were forced to use their cocoon-like shelters designed to keep them alive if trapped by fire. He said they had confirmation within 30 minutes and the men didn't survive.

"The No. 1 overriding thought is we got to get these guys back home," Moser said.

Everything was secondary to being with their fallen brothers. Moser said 20 to 30 people, who all knew these men, gathered on that hill in Yarnell together, yet isolated from the world where the news was spreading.

"We all kept vigil out there all night long," he said. "It was a long night. I don't think you would find anyone that was sleepy. We were all pretty wide awake."

Their grief was overwhelming, but their concerns simple: Show these men the utmost respect and get them to their families. They covered the bodies with American flags and got trucks ready to move them.

"As dawn broke, some of the investigation took place and then we were ready to go ahead and move the guys," Moser recalled. "A DPS lieutenant came up to me and said, 'You don't have to worry about a thing. Just drive on down there.' I said, 'What do you mean?' He said, 'Every intersection and road is closed from here to Downtown Phoenix.'"

"We see people with signs and they are crying on the side of the road," he continued. "That isolated feeling you had out there for that 24-hour period totally went away when you see the response statewide that we got. Sometimes you get inundated with bad news and horrible things that are happening in the world, then you see something like that in the face of tragedy, and it just gives you hope."

Moser said he clings to moments like that. They get him through the bad times.

"Everybody worked together so well," he said.

Moser admitted he's not fully healed from what happened that day, but says his pain cannot compare to that of the families.

"The more that we help the families and the more we deal with the people closest to the guys that died, The more we have perspective and realize what our role truly is in our situation."

Moser said parts of what he and his men saw, said and did during their nightlong vigil for the Yarnell 19 is something the firefighters have kept to themselves.