How the Granite Mountain Hotshots Story Reached Millions
The fire service has faced countless tragedies over the past two centuries, including many modern-day fires that have caused significant death and destruction. But few such tragedies are known as far back as the Yarnell Hill fire.
On June 30, 2013, the Yarnell Hill Fire in Arizona claimed the lives of 19 firefighters from the elite Granite Mountain Interagency Hotshot Crew, a tight-knit team from the Prescott Fire Department. It was the greatest loss of life for the U.S. Fire Department since the September 11 terrorist attacks.
The incident rocked the fire service, but it also attracted considerable public and mainstream media attention, primarily due to the depth and complexity of the story: the sheer volume of lives lost ; the sole survivor; the last known photos and video; the unknown decision-making in the final minutes; Vice President Joe Biden speaking at the memorial service; in-depth investigation; and the media coverage that followed.
As we honor the memory of the 19 fallen heroes, let’s look at how the story of the Yarnell Hill fire touched so many beyond the fire service.
Televised memorial service
Several memorial services were held for fallen firefighters, including a public memorial service held in the Prescott Valley on July 2. And on July 9, then-Vice President Joe Biden spoke at a memorial service in Prescott that was broadcast live by multiple media outlets. With thousands in attendance, including representatives from more than 100 elite teams from across the country, countless others watched online or on TV to share the remembrance.
Watch the full memorial service below:
The Yarnell Hill fire launched several books, including one written by the sole survivor of the incident, Brendan McDonough, who had separated from the crew earlier in the day. McDonough’s book 2017, “Granite Mountain: The First-Hand Account of a Tragic Wildfire, Its Sole Survivor, and the Firefighters Who Made the Ultimate Sacrifice,” details not only the minute-by-minute account of the incident, but also McDonough’s unique story of how he first found the hotshot team when needed.
Fernanda Santos, Phoenix Bureau Chief for The New York Times, wrote the book 2017 “The Fire Line: The Story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots.” The book is based on more than 100 hours of interviews with the families of the hotshots as well as fire historians and state and federal officials. The book won the 2017 Spur Award for Best First Nonfiction Book, as well as the Spur Award runner-up for Best Western Contemporary Nonfiction Book.
Kyle Dickman’s 2015 book “On the Burning Edge: A Fateful Fire and the Men Who Fought It” focuses on how wildfires start and spread and how they are fought. In a interview with NRPDickman explained how the incident has – and hasn’t – changed wildfire fighting: “I think it’s worth getting a broader perspective on what happened and ask ourselves why these men died and what can we do in the future to prevent more wildland firefighter deaths I think many of the agency responses to this are to invest more in technologies such as better fire shelters the fires, which are the last foil blankets under which the men eventually died, and then fitting some of the fighters with GPS devices, so they can be tracked But what we don’t see a lot is a lot discussion of potential policy changes.
On the big (and small) screen
It was another piece of literature that ultimately led to perhaps the widest access to the story of fallen firefighters. 2013 by Sean Flynn QG article “No Exit” details the relationships between the hotshots while piecing together, as best as possible, what went wrong on that scorching summer day. “No Exit” inspired the 2017 film “Only the Brave,” starring Josh Brolin as Eric Marsh, Miles Teller as Brendan McDonough, Jennifer Connelly as Amanda Marsh and Jeff Bridges as the role of Duane Steinbrink.
In addition, Outside the magazine published the documentary “The Granite Mountain Hotshots and the Yarnell Hill Fire” in August 2013. The magazine also produced the 7-minute video, “19: The True Story of the Yarnell Hill Fire,” in 2014.
Memorial State Park
Thousands of people continue to honor and remember the stars by visiting the Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial State Park, which opened in 2016. The park features a main trail that leads to an observation deck that overlooks the site where the firefighters perished. Nineteen steel gabion baskets encircle the area of the fatality site to protect and preserve the area for future visitors. Chains connect each gabion, a symbol of hotshot connection and teamwork. A circular path provides access around the baskets and the four commemorative benches.
Lexipol Editorial Director Greg Friese visited the site in 2021 and shared his experience in “A hike to remember: honoring the Granite Mountain Hotshots at Memorial State Park.” Friese encourages site visitors to bring a patch, pin or challenge coin: “Next to the observation deck armada, a canopy with some benches, is a wall of tribute for visitors to leave behind a patch, t-shirt, pin or challenge coin in remembrance of the dead. Arizona State Parks and Trails collects and preserves artifacts left at the site in a permanent collection.
The newest addition to the park is a bronze sculpture donated by the Institute of Guardians of Forest Firefightersa gift for them from the Facebook Watch program”return the favorwith Mike Rowe. As detailed on the state park website:
In January 2018, the crew of Returning the Favor approached the WFGI with the aim of filming a short documentary to highlight the work the group has done to support the Wildland fire community. Behind the scenes, the production group planned to surprise the organization’s founders, Deborah Pfingston and Roxanne Preston, with a special show dedicated to rewarding their efforts. The show included interviews with family and friends and culminated in a secret revelation of gifts given to the organization and the bronze statue.
Prior to their visit, Governor Doug Ducey, his family, friends, firefighters and Arizona State Parks and Trails staff had prepared for the special finale. Among the donations was $5,000 in gear from STIHL Chainsaws as well as gloves, bandanas, “Be Better” wristbands and the big reveal, a life-size bronze statue of a Hotshot, courtesy of Returning the Favor and Big Statues.
Animator Mike Rowe worked with the team to hide the statue from view with a big trailer until the final reveal. After presenting the women with the other gifts, he asked the staff to help him with one last item by moving the trailer to reveal a temporary fiberglass replica of the statue created by Matt Glenn of large statues in Provo, Utah.
The life-size replica of the statue was created over two weeks in Utah and taken down by the artist on the day of the event, just in time for the reveal.
Donating the statue to the park helps increase visibility and honors the Granite Mountain Hotshots who lost their lives on June 30, 2013. Visiting the park, viewing the statue, walking the trail and viewing the gabion baskets at the Fatality Memorial Site, you can honor the sacrifice of the 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots and the work of all forest firefighters across the country.
We invite you to discover the lives of these courageous men and to honor them for their courage and their sacrifice.
Never forget the 19
The story of the 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots is firmly rooted in history. We continue to honor fallen firefighters:
- Andrew Ashcraft, 29
- Robert Calwell, 23
- Travis Carter, 31
- Dustin DeFord, 24
- Christopher MacKenzie, 30 years old
- Eric Marsh, 43 years old
- Grant McKee, 21
- Sean Misner, 26
- Scott Norris, 28
- Wade Parker, 22
- John Percin Jr 24
- Antoine Rose, 23 years old
- Jesse Steed, 36
- Joe Thurston, 32
- Travis Turbofill, 27
- Guillaume Warneke, 25 years old
- Clayton Whitted, 28
- Kevin Woyjeck, 21 years old
- Garret Zuppiger, 27
Learn more about each firefighter at Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial State Park Memorial Site Where CNN’s tribute to fallen firefighters.