The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

State and Nation

July 4, 2013

Ariz. town honors fallen fire crew in 4th events

— PRESCOTT, Ariz. (AP) — Prescott officials are working to retool the over-the-top celebration that has made this Old West town the place to be on Independence Day in the wake of the deaths over the weekend of 19 hometown firefighters.

One thing is for certain: There will be fireworks.

The booming red and white bursts may remind some of the wildfire, still burning, that claimed all but one of the Granite Mountain Hotshot crew on Sunday, but the hilltop community of 40,000 is determined to mourn its dead without compromising its traditions or shying away from overt celebration. The mantra for days has been, "celebration, not grief."

Though much of the southwest remains a tinderbox, fire officials say they will be able to deploy the pyrotechnics safely, pouring water on the detonation area if necessary.

Festivities are expected to last at least 10 hours and include an all-day carnival, live music and a nighttime dance at the town's outdoor rodeo.

Hotels have long since run out of room for out-of-towners hoping to attend the celebration at Pioneer Park, a 10-minute drive from the makeshift memorial residents have built outside the Hotshot headquarters.

Violent wind gusts Sunday turned what was believed to be a manageable lightning-strike forest fire in the town of Yarnell into a death trap that left no escape for the highly qualified Hotshots, most of whom were in the prime of their lives.

Charred pine trees resembling burnt toothpicks now poke from the hillsides in the fire's wake. The higher mountains behind the hills are speckled by pink retardant.

Sunday's tragedy raised questions of whether the Hotshot crew should have been pulled out much earlier and whether all the usual precautions would have made any difference in the face of triple-digit temperatures, erratic winds and dry conditions that caused the fire to explode.

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