By Mary O’KEEFE
It was the type of news that can shock a nation – 19 firefighters had lost their lives while battling a fire near Yarnell, Ariz.
Nineteen of the 20-member crew of the Granite Mountain Interagency Hotshots, part of the Prescott Fire Dept., died while battling the Yarnell Hill fire on Sunday. The hotshots deployed their fire shelters, tent-like fire-resistant structures that are designed to cover the firefighters. In theory, if a fire burns over the shelter quickly, the firefighter is protected, but this fire, due to a change in the weather, did not burn over quickly.
Over the years, the crew had responded to other fires around the nation including in the Crescenta Valley and La Cañada Flintridge area as part of the interagency support.
“The Granite Mountain Hotshots did assist with the Station Fire,” said Robert Garcia, division chief, Angeles National Forest, Los Angeles River Ranger District. “Our hearts go out to the family, friends, and co-workers of the 19 firefighters who lost their lives. We are deeply saddened by this tragedy. It’s a devastating loss and is being felt throughout the entire firefighting community.”
The loss was great for the larger community of firefighters as well as Prescott. Five of the Granite Mountain Interagency Hotshots were from California including Kevin Woyjeck, 21, whose father is Los Angeles County Fire Dept. Captain Joe Woyjeck. Kevin was a former member of LACoFD Explorer Post 9 and had worked for Care Ambulance Service in Southern California.
During a televised press conference on Tuesday, Wade Ward, public information officer for the city of Prescott, spoke of the 20th member of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, Brendan McDonough.
“He had an assignment that was away from the crew at that time,” Ward said.
McDonough had been assigned as a lookout for the crew. He was not part of the burn over but was on the side of a hill. He radioed his crew that the fire was changing and that he was moving to a predetermined location.
He communicated to the crew the situation and that the weather was changing rapidly, and the fire had changed direction. That was the last he communicated with his crew.
Local fire departments have joined in the outpouring of support.
Glendale Fire Dept. released the following statement:
“The Prescott Fire Department along with the families of the 19 Granite Mountain Hotshot crew members are in the thoughts and prayers of the Glendale Fire Department. The loss of this crew has a deep impact on not only the City of Prescott and the state of Arizona. but also on communities around the United States that have benefitted from the skills and tireless effort of these brave men. The Glendale Fire Department has a deep respect for these men who valiantly gave their lives to answer their call to serve. This is a reminder that the work and dedication of not only this crew but of the firefighters around the nation can result in the responders paying the ultimate price for assisting those in need. The Glendale Fire Department will never forget the 19 Granite Mountain Hotshot crew members who lost their lives doing what they love – fighting fire.”
Prescott is a small, close-knit community that is trying to deal with this tragedy.
“They are at a loss. They are all in mourning,” said Crystal Allmon, spokeswoman for United Phoenix Firefighters Assn.
“The official sanctioned funeral will be sometime next week, possibly Tuesday,” said Prescott Fire Dept. spokesman Phil Hartman. “It will be a memorial held in Prescott for all members of the crew. If someone is a retired firefighter and would like to attend the funeral, they can contact [us] through
The association is assisting Prescott Fire with donations for the fallen firefighters’ families.
When tragedies like this occur there is a concern that some may take advantage of the public’s generosity. Fire department officials have warned that within the past few days there have been bogus websites attempting to collect funds for the Prescott Fire Dept. The fire department has a list of those agencies sanctioned to accept donations at www.yarnellfallenfirefighters.com.
To mail donations, send to Prescott Fire Admin, 1700 Iron Springs Road, Prescott, Arizona 86305 or United Phoenix Firefighters, 621 E. Columbus Ave., Phoenix, Arizona 85012. The fire department requests those who donate please indicate in the memo section of the check “for Granite Mountain Hotshots.”
“People can also donate at any Chase Bank,” Allmon said.
Chase Bank has set up an account for the Granite Mountain Hotshots. The account number to be placed in the memo portion is 987218757.
The funds collected will be divided among the surviving family members of the fallen firefighters.
For those who would like to donate directly to the Kevin Woyjeck Memorial Fund they can do so by going into the F&A Federal Credit Union, Kevin Woyjeck Memorial Fund, Acct. 177222, 2625 Corporate Place, Monterey Park, CA 91754.