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Arizona News

Eight years later: A look back on the tragedy of the Granite Mountain hotshots

Arizona remembers the firefighters who gave their lives so others may survive - KPNX's Josh Sanders reports

YARNELL, Ariz. (KYMA, KECY) - For the past two years Jared Welsh has served as both a guardian and historian for the Granite Mountain Memorial State Park. 

He’s hiked this hollowed ground hundreds of times - knowing every nook and cranny. And the stories behind these 19 plaques set into the rocks along the way. 

“I’ll read one of these plaques and go man these guys would have run circles around you," said Jared Welsh, a park ranger at Granite Mountain Memorial State Park.

On June 30, 2013, The Granite Mountain Hotshots, a 20 man crew battling the Yarnell Hill fire were cut off from there escape route. 19 of them tragically losing their lives. 

“Reading each one of these plaques it grounds me," said Welsh. “John Percin Jr. he was the guy that filled in for another crew member. Grant McKee and Robert Caldwell were cousins. That was another unique thing about this crew. There was family members.”

Welsh was just 23 when the fire erupted - evacuating from his home in Yarnell - that moment still sobering today. 

“These guys lost their lives less than a mile from my house. You got the linemen with the booms up on highway 60 and they were bringing them through and I counted 19 and that’s when it hit me that it was real," said Welsh.

A tribute wall now sits 400 feet above where the men made their last stand - patches and mementos - honoring their sacrifice. 

As Jared reflects on their legacy eight years later - he feels a connection beyond that tragic day. 

“You find out some of them were musicians and skaters. You can relate to them on that level. It makes it personal.” 

And their sacrifice a reminder to live each day better than the one before. 

“You just get motivated by what you feel like is here. These guys left their spirits to watch out and protect this area.” 

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Lisa Sturgis

Lisa Sturgis returned to KYMA as its Digital Content Director in September of 2019, but she and her family have a long history in the Desert Southwest. Her grandmother first moved to Yuma in the late 1940’s, and Lisa got her first job in TV news at KYMA in 1987.

Reach out to Lisa with story ideas and your digital feedback at lisa.sturgis@kecytv.com.

Jenny Day

You can catch Jenny Day anchoring KYMA News 11 at 5, 6, and 10 p.m. weekdays.

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