Arizona remembers deadly Yarnell Hill Fire as Goodwin Fire burns

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19 Granite Mountain hotshots died June 30, 2013, trying to save Yarnell from an erratic wildfire. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) 19 Granite Mountain hotshots died June 30, 2013, trying to save Yarnell from an erratic wildfire. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
(Source: 3TV/CBS 5) (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
The members of the elite firefighting team were killed battling one of the state's most devastating wildfires on June 30, 2013. (Source: Arizona State Parks) The members of the elite firefighting team were killed battling one of the state's most devastating wildfires on June 30, 2013. (Source: Arizona State Parks)
(Source: Arizona State Parks) (Source: Arizona State Parks)
Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial State Park (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial State Park (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)

Even as hundreds of wildland firefighters battle the massive Goodwin Fire burning in Yavapai County south of Prescott, Arizonans' hearts and minds are looking back four years to the wildfire that killed 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots.

By order of the governor, flags on all state buildings will fly at half-staff until sunset Friday in honor of the Yarnell 19.

The Yarnell Hill Fire, one of the most devastating wildfires in Arizona history, burned near the Goodwin Fire, which has triggered evacuations affecting many of those forced to evacuate back then.

"It's scary because we're coming up on the four-year anniversary of the Yarnell Hill fire - there's still a lot of fresh memories," said Arizona state Sen. Karen Fann, who represents the area where the fire is burning.

Gov. Doug Ducey officially declared Friday "Yarnell 19 Remembrance Day."

"The Yarnell fire was one of the most tragic events in Arizona history," he said in a statement. "Nineteen courageous firefighters sprinted toward danger in order to keep their fellow Arizonans out of harm’s way, and no words will ever be enough to express our gratitude for their service to our state. Arizonans across the state send their thoughts, prayers, and support to their loved ones.

“I urge all Arizonans to take a moment today to remember the firefighters and first responders across our state who continue to put their lives on the line day-in and day-out to protect our communities during this year’s wildfire season.”

Ducey briefly acknowledged the anniversary when he went up to Yavapai County to survey the Goodwin Fire Thursday afternoon. He was assuring everyone that the Goodwin Fire is the state's top priority and thanking the teams and agencies battling the fire on every front.

"It’s also not lost on me that tomorrow is the four-year anniversary of the Yarnell 19, and the bravery and the elite status of those young men that we lost," he said.

[WATCH: Gov. Doug Ducey acknowledges 4th anniversary of Yarnell Hill Fire]

[SPECIAL SECTION: Arizona Wildfires]

Lightning sparked the fire near the town of Yarnell on June 28, 2013. A couple of days later, winds shifted and trapped the hotshots in a brush-choked canyon.

"This is as dark a day as I can remember, with Arizona suffering the truly unimaginable loss of 19 wildland firefighters," then Gov. Jan Brewer said in a statement.

"This devastating loss is a reminder of the grave risks our firefighters take every day on our behalf in Arizona and in communities across this nation," Sen. John McCain said. "Their sacrifice will never be forgotten."

[ORIGINAL STORY: 19 firefighters dead in Yarnell wildfire]

The remains of the firefighters were brought to Phoenix in a special procession.

"They were heroes -- highly-skilled professionals who, like so many across our country do every day, selflessly put themselves in harm's way to protect the lives and property of fellow citizens they would never meet," former President Barack Obama said in a statement paying his respects.

The flames not only trapped the firefighters but destroyed 127 homes in the Yarnell area.

[RELATED: Behind the wildfire line: An inside look at Arizona's Yarnell Hill Fire (July 3, 2013)]

The final report on the Yarnell Hill Fire, which was the greatest loss of firefighter lives since 9/11, was released just months after the incident.

It stated that the hotshots were heading to a safety zone.

 "The fire's extreme speed of 10 to 12 miles per hour eliminated any opportunity for the crew to reach the safety zone or return up to the canyon rim," it reads. "The crew had less than two minutes to improve a shelter deployment site by using chain saws and burning out. The crew was deploying their fire shelters close together in a small area when the fire overtook them."

The report also revealed that there were a lot of unknowns to the firefighters, including the severity of the weather.

[RELATED: Questions about the deaths of 19 hotshots may never be answered, attorney says]

[RELATED: Officials to sell station that housed 19 fallen firefighters]

Lone survivor

Only one member of the Granite Mountain Hotshots survived. In a book released last year around the anniversary of the fire, Brendon McDonough, who was acting as a lookout, wrote about the survivor’s guilt and anxiety he had dealt with since that fateful day.

[RELATED: Yarnell Hill Fire survivor: ‘It’s a tough life to live’]

“The fire was so powerful it was impervious to chemicals and water or any human endeavor to stop it,” he wrote in "My Lost Brothers: The Untold Story by the Yarnell Hill Fire's Lone Survivor.”

The book was released in paperback in April, carrying a new title, "Granite Mountain: The Firsthand Account of a Tragic Wildfire, Its Lone Survivor, and the Firefighters Who Made the Ultimate Sacrifice."

McDonough's is not the only book about the Yarnell Hill Fire.

New York Times Phoenix Bureau Chief Fernanda Santos also released a book last year ahead of the anniversary. 

"I became very curious about these 19 firefighters," Santos said last May. "I wanted to know who they were; what kind of life did they live. Why did they fight fire? What was it about wildfires?"

Santos took an eight-month unpaid leave of absence from the Times to devote her full attention to the book, "The Fire Line: The Story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots and One of the Deadliest Days in American Firefighting."

This devastating loss is a reminder of the grave risks our firefighters take every day on our behalf in Arizona and in communities across this nation. Their sacrifice will never be forgotten.

Honoring the fallen

A memorial park and hiking trail were dedicated to the fallen firefighters in November.

“May this always be a sacred place for this community and for this state to honor the lives of those who died protecting us," Gov. Doug Ducey said during the somber dedication ceremony. "And may it always serve as a testament to the danger firefighters everywhere face every day. We will never forget."

[READ MORE: Park, trail dedicated to 19 fallen Arizona firefighters]

The 3-mile trail is lined with memorial plaques for each firefighter. It zig-zags from the highway up a steep slope to a ridgeline, then follows the ridgeline to a spot with a view into the canyon where the firefighters were killed.

The trail then descends into the canyon to a memorial site with 19 wire baskets filled with rocks marking the locations where flames overcame the crew. A flagpole is set in the center of a memorial site.

Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial State Park is the first of its kind in Arizona.

[SLIDESHOW: Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial State Park]

[PDF: Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial State Park Map]

[ONLINE: AZStateParks.com/hotshotswww.GraniteMountainHotshotsMemorial.org]

Arizona State Parks said the fourth anniversary of the tragedy would "be marked with events in and around town throughout the day. Anticipate increased hiking traffic on the memorial park trail."

The movie

A movie based on the Yarnell Hill Fire and its tragic outcome went into production last year. “Granite Mountain Hotshots,” which was written by Ken Nolan ("Black Hawk Down" and "Transformers: The Last Knight") and directed by Joseph Kosinski ("TRON: Legacy" and "Oblivion"), is based on McDonough's book. It is scheduled to hit movie theaters on Oct. 20.

Miles Teller plays McDonough (aka Donut); Jennifer Connelly plays Amanda Marsh, the widow of the team’s leader, Eric Marsh. 

Granite Mountain Hotshots killed in Yarnell Hill Fire on June 30, 2013

Andrew Ashcraft, 29

Robert Caldwell, 23

Travis Carter, 31

Dustin Deford, 24

Christopher MacKenzie, 30

Eric Marsh, 43

Grant McKee, 21

Sean Misner, 26

Scott Norris, 28

Wade Parker, 22

John Percin, 24

Anthony Rose, 23

Jesse Steed, 36

Joe Thurston, 32

Travis Turbyfill, 27

William Warneke, 25

Clayton Whitted, 28

Kevin Woyjeck, 21

Garret Zuppiger, 27

Click/tap here for biographies of the firefighters.

By the numbers

Dates: June 28, 2013 - July 10, 2013

Cause: Lightning

Total personnel: 184

Burned area: 8,400 acres

Fatalities: 19

Injuries: 23

Buildings destroyed: 129 (127 homes)

(Source: InciWeb)

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