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Prescott Community Pays Tribute To Fallen Firefighters

Aired 7/3/13 on KPBS News.

Throughout the day hundreds of fellow firefighters, community members and families came to the fence to leave flowers, prayers and homemade signs.

PRESCOTT, Ariz. — The number 19 will remain a special number to the community of Prescott, where 19 hotshot firefighters called home. The men died fighting the Yarnell Hill Fire on Sunday.

Nineteen crosses, shovels, flags and cut-out paper hearts line the fence outside the Prescott Fire Department.

Prescott kids hang pictures and letters. They said they are sad for the firefighters' children.

Jean Wolfe said she’s overwhelmed at the sight of the makeshift memorial. "Oh, Prescott? It’s just a small town with lots of love."

Wolfe brought her grandchildren to hang their homemade signs. Cole Walker, 11, has drawn a fire truck.

"I said ‘thank you hotshot crew for helping put out the Yarnell Hill Fire.’ Then I wrote down all their names thanking them for what they did," Cole said.

For others like Cynthia McInerny, the emotions are stronger.

"I'm here to tell 'em thank you and they're our heroes," McInerny said.

Three young firefighters came to pay their respects. David Bowden hung his Pleasant Valley Hotshot T-shirt on the fence. He said he worked several fires with the Granite Mountain Hotshot Crew.

"We were always on fires with them, so we’re like family," Bowden said. "[Eric] Marsh, all them, yeah, we turned some of the same dirt, so it’s kinda close to home."

Throughout the day hundreds of fellow firefighters, community members and families came to the fence to leave flowers, prayers and homemade signs. One read, “you took too much.”

Traffic is nonstop around this makeshift memorial with locals stopping by to pay tribute. It's hard to ignore media from around the country who are here to cover the story.

During a typical wildfire, reporters would be based closer to the fire. But because of the investigations into the deaths and the erratic winds, authorities have taken extra precautions.

Former firefighters honor their friends at a makeshift memorial outside the Prescott Fire Department

Journalists have also been asked to respect the families’ privacy. But some of those who knew the firefighters wish to share their stories.

Retired Prescott High School Coach Lou Beneitone plans to reach out to the family of Clayton Whitted after they’ve had some space. Whitted played football for Beneitone 10 years ago.

"He was a great young man, hard working. Even the boys on the varsity team thought he was pretty much our leader, kind of the heart of the team. He’d always entered the room with a big smile," Beneitone said. "And when you’re talking at him you’d end up with a big smile. That’s something I’ll always remember is that smile you can see from a mile away."

Beneitone and so many of the people say the same thing: Prescott is a special supportive, tight-knit community.

"You really feel a dramatic loss. Because probably everybody in this community knows one of the boys or one of the families. Our firefighters in the community are very well bonded with them," Beneitone said. "Because a community like this, surrounded by wildland, we rely on a lot of these resources and these young men to protect us. It’s a big loss in this community and there’s going to be sadness for a long time."

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