PHOENIX (AP) — The bodies of 19 elite Hotshot firefighters haven't been left alone since they were pulled from a charred Arizona mountainside last week. It's a tradition among the close-knit crews everywhere to stay by the fallen until they're handed off to families for burial.
Thousands of firefighters from around the nation are now expected to attend a memorial service for the men to pay final respects on Tuesday at a minor league hockey arena in Prescott Valley, not far from where they died Sunday, June 30.
Prescott's Granite Mountain Hotshots were overrun by smoke and fire while battling a blaze on a ridge in Yarnell, about 80 miles northwest of Phoenix. One member survived — Brendan McDonough, 21, who was serving as a lookout and wasn't in the immediate burn zone.
Dignitaries expected to attend the memorial include Vice President Joe Biden, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. McDonough will offer what's called "The Hot Shots Prayer," which ends with a line that will most certainly be difficult for the young man to read: "For if this day on the line ... I should answer death's call ... Lord, bless my hot shot Crew ... My family, one and all."
McDonough was assigned to give a "heads-up on the hillside" for the team on that fateful afternoon, said Prescott Fire Department spokesman Wade Ward. He notified the crew of the rapidly changing weather conditions that sent winds swirling erratically and caused the fire to cut off his team's escape route, then swiftly left his post for safety.
McDonough has not spoken publicly about the ordeal. Ward said it's just been too tough on him, but that "he did exactly what he was supposed to."