Arizona tragedy hits too close to home

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By The Staff

The news that 19 members of Arizona’s elite Granite Mountain Hotshots were killed Sunday after being overrun by flames near the community of Yarnell, Ariz., hit particularly close to home.

For a couple of weeks in June, the Granite Mountain Hot Shots, based in Prescott, Ariz.,  were at the Valles Caldera National Preserve, battling the Thompson Ridge Fire, which is now 100 percent contained.

The Los Alamos Fire Department is collecting donations for the families of the fallen firefighters in the Hot Shot crew that lost their lives fighting the Yarnell Wildfire June 30.

 The firefighters defended Los Alamos and LANL from the Las Conchas wildfire of June 2011, and more recently from the threat of the Thompson Ridge wildfire in the Jemez Mountains west of Los Alamos. 

LAFD will set up a table at the July 4 event for residents to sign a banner for the families or to make a contribution.

LAFD is also in the process of setting up an account for the families through Los Alamos National Bank.

“These brave men were here in Los Alamos just a short time ago. They directly supported our community in our greatest time of need,” said LAFD Chief Troy Hughes, “Now, it’s time for us to give back to their families who are suffering this tremendous loss. I hope that everyone who turns out to the Fourth of July celebration will take just a few minutes to sign the banner and make a donation to this worthwhile cause, or stop by LANB and contribute to the Granite Mountain Hot Shot Families Account.”

Valles Caldera Executive Director  Dennis Trujillo said thoughts and prayers go out to the families, friends and neighbors of the Granite Mountain Hotshot Crew. “The Granite Mountain Hotshots provided the structure protection to the preserve’s Historic Headquarters, the night that the fire went through that area,” Trujillo said. “That’s what they were trying to do around the community of Yarnell, Arizona; protect and preserve.  We are forever in their debt for the sacrifices they made to protect others. We shall never forget our fallen firefighters.”

Gov. Susana Martinez said the team battled to protect lives and property.

“I join New Mexicans in keeping the families of these fallen firefighters in our thoughts and prayers,” she said. “They are heroes who put themselves in harm’s way to protect others, and for that, we are forever grateful.”

Santa Fe was also mourning the loss of the firefighters. The team had trained and mentored many members of the city’s fire department.

The violent shift in wind that caught the Arizona Hotshots was part of a system that also passed over New Mexico earlier. Now, firefighters assigned to the Silver and Jaroso fires are dealing with much cooler temperatures, double-digit humidity levels and the possibility of afternoon rains.

One of the first orders of the day by the incident commanders assigned to the Silver Fire — the largest blaze currently burning in New Mexico — was for their crews to stand down before the morning briefing. The few moments were meant to help them “collect their thoughts and to allow folks some time to just process it,” said fire information officer Denise Croker.

“It’s pretty somber,” she said. “You can feel it in the camp. You can see it in the camp.”

“Even though we’re from different states, we’re a small community,” she added.

The loss was being felt just as much in northern New Mexico by those assigned to the Jaroso Fire, which has blackened more than 17 square miles of the Pecos Wilderness, including the headwaters of one of the state’s most popular fishing spots.

And for the few crews remaining on the Thompson Ridge Fire, which initially raced through part of the Valles Caldera National Preserve, the deaths hit even closer to home. The Granite Mountain Hotshots had helped on the fire just two weeks ago.

Fire activity on both fires dropped somewhat Sunday and Monday, officials said.

Due to the dangerous conditions on the Jaroso Fire, crews were being cautious about where to build fire lines. By Monday, there was still no containment.

However, the Silver Fire was 50 percent contained. It has consumed more than 208 square miles of the Gila National Forest since being sparked by lightning on June 7. “My thoughts and prayers are with the families of the 19 firefighters who died in the line of duty in Arizona.  Members of this team had recently been in New Mexico helping battle wildfires and we are thankful for their efforts,” Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (D-N.M.).

Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) said, “Today all Americans are mourning the tragic deaths of 19 firefighters of the Granite Mountain Hotshots who were killed battling a fire outside Yarnell, Ariz. New Mexicans are especially thankful for their assistance fighting the recent Thompson Ridge Fire in our state. We will never forget them, and our hearts and prayers go out to their loved ones”

Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) said, “These men were true American heroes--bravely battling the blazes that plague the Southwest and reminding us of the grave risks firefighters take every day to protect families and communities across the country. I join New Mexicans in keeping our neighbors in Arizona in our thoughts and prayers as we grapple with this awful tragedy.”