19 deceased firefighters: Who they were
By Dana Ford. Eliott McLaughlin and Josh Levs
(CNN) — Nineteen firefighters died Sunday while fighting the Yarnell Hill fire northwest of Phoenix. The fire started on Friday and spread to more than 6,000 acres in two days. Learn more about the fallen firefighters below.
Andrew Ashcraft, 29 — His mother called Ashcraft “my treasure” and told CNN affiliate KNXV that his big, blue eyes stole the heart of his high school sweetheart, Juliann, his wife and mother of their four children.
He dreamed of becoming a hotshot, Deborah Pfingston added, and was once named the Granite Mountain Hotshots’ Rookie of the Year.
The last time she heard from him, he texted, “Yarnell wants to burn down,” KNXV reported. Back home in Prescott, Ashcraft was a home teacher, a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints assignment, to Elise Smith’s family. She told the Deseret News in Salt Lake City he had a “sweet spirit” and was excited about being a hotshot.
Robert Caldwell, 23 — A Facebook page Caldwell and his wife Claire shared shows how beloved he was.
“What a beautiful love you shared,” says one of many comments posted.
No further information was listed about him. But one of the photos shows what appears to be the couple’s wedding day, with Claire’s young son a part of the ceremony.
Travis Carter, 31 — “He loved his kids more than anything,” Carter’s wife of six years, Krista, said Monday night, according to The Arizona Republic. “That’s what he lived for: seeing them happy and having family time.”
Their two children are ages 6 and 3.
Carter “loved being outdoors,”she said. “It was his passion.”
He “had a heart of gold,” she added. “He was one of those people who would do anything for anybody, whether he knew them his whole life or met them five minutes before.”
Dustin Deford, 24 — Deford began volunteering to fight fires in Montana at age 18, the Billings Gazette reported.
“He was one of the good ones who ever walked on this earth,” Carter County Sheriff Neil Kittelmann said Monday, according to the newspaper. “I’ve told two or three people that I thought needed to know. People reacted like he was one of their own kids.”
Tom Carroll, who once worked with Deford in Miles City, said what he will remember most about the Ekalaka, Montana, boy is “the smile on his face and the swagger in his walk.”
Deford is survived by nine brothers and sisters. He was right in the middle.
Chris MacKenzie, 30 — His mother, Laurie Goralski, didn’t see MacKenzie as often as she liked because he lived in Arizona, but when she underwent brain surgery last month, he made sure to come home to care for her, she told the Press-Enterprise newspaper in Riverside, California. MacKenzie had a lot of friends and was great about keeping in touch with them. “He was a great guy. He really was well-liked,” she told the paper. The Hemet, California, native always wanted to be a firefighter — like his father, Mike, a former captain in nearby Moreno Valley — and went so far as to lose 75 pounds in high school so he could pursue firefighting and another passion, snowboarding, Goralski said.
Eric Marsh, 43 — The superintendent and eldest member of the hot Shots, Marsh wanted to be a firefighter from the time he was a young boy.
His uncle calls Eric one of the bravest men he knew.
“We’re all in shock,” Robert Marsh told CNN affiliate WSOC.
As a young man, Eric Marsh spent summers in the Arizona heat working with fire teams. After college, he worked with the National Forest Service and helped form his own team — the Granite Mountain Hot Shots. For weeks, they trained in 100-degree heat, WSOC reported.
The family is very proud of Marsh and the other firefighters who died, his uncle said. “They put their lives on the line to help save other people and their property.”
Sean Misner, 26 — Jayson Lambert was banking on his best friend being his best man. “We were close enough that I still said, ‘I love you’ when we said goodbye on the phone,” Lambert said of Misner. Lambert and Misner had known each other since Lambert was 7. They played baseball and went to church together in Santa Ynez, California, Lambert told the Santa Maria Times. Misner met his wife, Amanda, while working in a grocery store. They married in September, and she is expecting their first child, Jaxon Herbert Misner, in two months, she told CNN affiliate KEYT. Misner, 26, was inspired by his grandfather, a firefighter himself, and wanted to follow in his footsteps.
James Steed, 36 — Steed had been part of the Hot Shots for more than 10 years. He captained the unit for the past two years, CNN affiliate KCPQ reported.
His brother Cassidy raised him after their mother died 25 years ago, the station reported.
“I’m just kind of numb and in a state of shock,” Cassidy Steed said.
“I looked up to him. He was an outstanding man. He was a big family man and he loved his job,” Steed added, speaking to KCPQ by phone.
“He definitely sacrificed a lot for his job, time away from his family, hours spent training to be safe at it. The time he put into it was really impressive and I’m really proud of him.”
Family friend Tracie Jarratt said James Steed was a former Marine who spent several years in the military. He leaves behind a wife and two children, ages 3 and 4, she told KCPQ.
Billy Warneke, 25 –– From the time he was 6 years old, Warneke wanted to be a firefighter — and not just a regular one. “He wanted to be with the best: the hotshot crew,” his grandfather told CNN affiliate KGTV.
Warneke was reared in Hemet, California, as part of a military family. His brother in the Navy and sister in the Coast Guard, Warneke left for the Marines after high school, serving a tour in Iraq as a sharpshooter, according to the Press-Enterprise newspaper in Riverside, California. He joined the Granite Mountain Hotshots just two months ago, KGTV reported. His wife, Roxanne, whom he married in 2010 after leaving the Marines, is expecting their first child in December.
Kevin Woyjeck, 21 — Joe Woyjeck last talked to his son Kevin, the outdoors enthusiast who took up his father’s firefighting profession, on the phone just hours before Kevin died. “He said, ‘Dad, we got a fire in Yarnell, Arizona. … I’ll give you a call later,'” the elder Woyjeck said on “Anderson Cooper 360” on Monday.
Kevin Woyjeck, following in the footsteps of his father, a Los Angeles County Fire Department fire captain, joined the Prescott Fire Department’s Granite Mountain Hotshots just three months ago, Joe Woyjeck said.
“Always wanted to be a fireman. He loved the outdoors — sleeping in the dirt was not a big deal to him; he actually enjoyed it, I think,” he said, remembering a son who always had a fishing rod in his car. “Just a great kid, not a mean bone in his body … always looking forward to becoming a firefighter like his dad.
“Words can’t describe the loss that our family is feeling right now.”
John Percin, 24 — It wasn’t a surprise to Nick Havely that Percin, his close friend, ended up a firefighter.
“He was very energetic and outgoing,” Havely told CNN affiliate KGW. “He had a positive attitude about everything. He loves the outdoors so that’s why it didn’t surprise me when he told me he wanted to be a firefighter.”
Percin was a 2007 graduate of West Linn High School in West Linn, Oregon, the affiliate said.
His family released a statement upon his death:
“John was a brave and courageous man who never hesitated to put others before himself.
“He was loved by many, and he will always be remembered. He is an inspiration to us all. Our thoughts and prayers go out to all of his fallen brothers and their families.”
Anthony Rose, 23 — Theresa Mooney saw the tragedy of the Yarnell Hill fire unfold on television, but she thought Rose, her daughter’s fiancee, was home safe. He wasn’t.
“She said, ‘No, he was called back out — him and the crew, the whole crew. They’re gone,'” Mooney told CNN affiliate WTMJ, recalling a conversation with her daughter, Tiffany Hettrick.
The couple was expecting its first child in the fall.
Mooney told WTMJ she had a message for Rose.
“Watch down on Tiffany and your baby. Stay by them,” she told the affiliate “And he will.”
Scott Norris, 28 — “Wise beyond his years.” That’s how Jim Marnell described Norris. The two worked together at a gun shop in the off season, according to CNN affiliate KPHO.
“When I finally woke up this morning, I thought I had dreamt of his demise but quickly realized that it was reality,” Marnell said.
He described Scott as as witty and someone who could connect with anyone.
“Scott was an exceptional man, wise beyond his years,” Marnell told the affiliate.
Clayton Whitted, 28 — Whitted “just had that smile and that spark,” said Lou Beneitone, high school football coach. Whitted was one of his star lineman, CNN affiliate KPHO reported.
Whitted was funny, but “when it came down to getting serious, he got serious,” Beneitone said.
The coach, who said he is devastated, saw Whitted just a couple of months ago getting ready for what he knew would be a tough fire season.
“I shook his hand, hugged him and said, ‘Be careful out there,’ and he said, ‘I will, coach,'” Beneitone said.
Wade Parker, 22 –– Parker was the kind of guy who “would lay down his life for a friend, and I think he lived for that,” said Laura Kirk. Her children grew up with Parker and were close friends, she told CNN affiliate KPHO.
She said she would remember Wade as a daredevil who loved sports, his fiance, and his church.
Members of Manifest Youth Ministry gathered Monday to mourn one of their most beloved members, KPHO reported.
Parker was engaged to be married in October.
Joe Thurston, 32 –– Friends described Thurston as determined, generous, and always up for a challenge.
“He was one of the best guys I ever met,” Scott Goodrich, a friend, told The Salt Lake Tribune.
Thurston grew up in Cedar City, Utah, and attended Cedar High School and Southern Utah University, according to the newspaper.
He and Goodrich reportedly played in a band, went cliff-jumping together, and rode skateboards.
“He was a very determined guy. He wasn’t a slacker. He was very generous. All that is definitely in his character,” Goodrich said.
Travis Turbyfill, 27 — The Arizona Republic reported that Turbyfill attended Prescott High School. The caption under his yearbook photo may give a glimpse into his personality.
“I have decided to live forever or die in the attempt,” the newspaper reported it said.
Garret Zuppiger, 27 — Zuppiger was the type of guy who would “give you the shirt off his back,” Frank Morrison, a former neighbor of his, told The Arizona Republic.
He “was always, always willing to lend a helping hand,” Morrison said.
Grant McKee, 21 — McKee was a cousin of Robert Caldwell, another fire victim, John Nelson, a friend of both, told The Arizona Republic.
“Robert and Grant were both great guys,” Nelson said. “They were passionate about what they did. Grant had a really good heart.”
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