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Prescott, Arizona Honoring 19 Fallen Heroes From Yarnell Hill Wildfire; Sole Survivor Of Granite Mountain Hotshots Begs For Privacy;

Aired July 4, 2013 - 15:29   ET


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you for joining me.

Today, it is the Fourth of July, a day when patriotism soars and we take a moment to think of those who defend us all around the world. But this week, America received a tragic reminder that many of those heroes, they're right here at home. They're in our towns, in our cities, in our neighborhoods.

This past Sunday, flames were roaring out of control in Arizona just northwest of Phoenix. Nineteen firefighters, an elite group known as Hot Shots, rushed in, boots touching the frontlines without hesitation.

Then a gust of wind took not only our heroes, but the sons, brothers, husbands and fathers of families who never had the chance to say good- bye.

Prescott, Arizona, new information now, the first official funeral service to honor the 19 fallen heroes will take place Tuesday.

Affiliate KPHO is reporting the firefighters' bodies will be transported back to Prescott this Sunday in a solemn caravan of 19 hearses with a full color guard and bagpipe presentation.

Right now these bodies are being held at the medical examiner's office in Phoenix.

The Yarnell Hill wildfire which they were fighting Sunday is about 45 percent contained. Officials say the fire may not be fully contained until July 12th. That is eight days from now.

So what happened? A lightning strike started the fast moving fire last weekend. The wildfire scorched more than 8,400 acres, about 13 square miles, and on this holiday today, a day that should be all about celebration and family and friends, in Prescott, Arizona, is filled with pain and pride for those families of those 19 very special patriots.

The Granite Mountain Hot Shot crew were heroes in their homes and community and to the people whose lives they protected.

And I want to take you now to Prescott to Stephanie Elam who's standing by with more. Stephanie, our hearts are with those, of course, in Arizona today.

How are those who knew these young men and even those who didn't -- how are they remembering them on this fourth of July?

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke, we actually just spoke to one young woman. She told me that at the shop where she worked, Shannon's, which is just right off the park here, that they knew a couple of the men who died.

They're all trying to make sure that they make it to every event that is put on by the town to remember these 19 men. She said they're trying to keep their spirits up because it's the Fourth of July and to honor their memory, but it's just very hard at this point.

But throughout town you can see signs of the memorial. You can see 19 flags here, 19 bottles of water at the memorial. Maybe it's 19 roses together, children drawing pictures.

All throughout town, you can see that everyone is banding together to show these firefighters what they meant to them.


ELAM: The Fourth of July, a time for remembering American heroes, and in Prescott, it's a tribute to 19 young men that's bringing this town closer.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Coming together, I think, is the only way. If anybody is lost in the tragedy on their own, the whole community will suffer.

ELAM: In an impromptu show of respect, civilians and firefighters lined the streets as the two Granite Mountain Hot Shot buggies returned from the fire line, just as they've always done, but this time with a procession and without the men who rode in them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The two white buggies that were the Granite Mountain Hot Shots, that was their home away from home. That is where they lived out of, whether they were in Idaho, Texas, California or Yarnell.

ELAM: As they passed, these firefighters saluted their lost brothers and fought back tears.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's like any fire department, fire family. It's like your second family.

ELAM: Throughout town there are signs of love for the Hot Shots, flags everywhere, most at half staff.

And many people here are compelled to just do something.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We've been busy nonstop since this morning. We've had a line of cars constantly.

ELAM: These kids are washing cars to raise money for the families of the victims.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I heard about it on Facebook. And truck needed a wash. So figured I'd donate to the firefighters that fell.

ELAM: Others are adding to the memorial along the fence of Station 7.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I grabbed 19 red roses for each individual and one white one just to signify the town and the strength everybody has.

ELAM: A town standing together to honor its patriots who gave the most.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's the nature of a firemen. That's the nature of these 19 guys. They wanted to give so badly, they laid down their lives in order to do that.


ELAM: And those buggies, as they made their way into town, that moment of silence didn't just happen here. It also happened on the fire line as well.

These people here are really trying to do all they can do, figure out ways they can help these families by also putting together some charitable donations because a lot of these men had some very young children, Brooke.

BALDWIN: I know so many people not just where you are in Prescott, but all across the country, they want to know how they can help. We'll show them in just a moment.

Stephanie Elam, thank you for their stories.

Throughout the next half hour, we'll tell you stories of some of these young men who died on Sunday.

I want to begin with Andrew Ashcraft who in this photo, let me show you this. In this photo here you can really just see his love of life.

He snapped this before the Arizona wildfire killed him and his fellow hot shots crew members.

He leaves behind a wife and four young children. CNN's Brian Todd spoke with Ashcraft's widow and mother in Prescott.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Juliann Ashcraft can't sleep and barely knows what to say to her young children.

In an instant, Juliann became a widow, her emptiness complicated by the responsibility of helping six-year-old Ryder, four-year-old Shiloh, two-year-old Tate and her baby, Choice, just a year old, deal with the loss of their father.

JULIANN ASHCRAFT, WIFE OF FALLEN FIREFIGHTER: Just a lot of faith, a lot of prayers, but I don't plan to move on and leave behind.

I plan on finding a way to incorporate Andrew in our life now that's different, that's more of a spiritual and a mental and emotional presence.

TODD: Andrew Ashcraft himself had so much of life still ahead. Just 29 years old when the Yarnell hill fire suddenly turned on him and 18 other firefighters. Choice may have virtually no memory of his father when he's older. What are you going to tell him about Andrew?

ASHCRAFT: Well, their dad is amazing, and I will tell them every day of their lives how much he loves them.

But he's here. I look in their faces and I see him. They look just like him. They act just like him.

And there will be days that's great and days I'm sure I'll pull my hair out. He was full of life and energy.

TODD: Andrew's mother, Deborah Pfingston, is struggling with the same emotions and feeling the same pride.

She can't say enough about the dedication and heroism of Andrew and the other Granite Mountain Hot Shots, a veritable SEAL Team 6 of fight fighters.

What's your feeling about the fact he perished with those guys together?


Last night when I was praying, because I always would text Andrew when he was out on a fire, be strong. Be wise. Be safe.

I said, OK, God, I don't understand it. But thank you that he wasn't alone. Thank you that he was -- that they were together.

TODD: They had done everything together, Deborah says. Eight slept outside and trained.

The loss of Andrew Ashcraft is also being felt here at a place called Captain CrossFit, a training center in Prescott where Ashcraft and five others who were lost in the fire worked out together regularly.

Trainer Janine Pereira worked with all of the Hot Shots here.

JANINE PEREIRA, TRAINED HOT SHOTS: It's just really heartbreaking and sad to know that they are all gone, the whole crew.

TODD: A loss in one household that Andrew's mother puts in perspective.

PFINGSTON: I have my husband. I have my daughter. I have my oldest son.

But Juliann, Ryder, Shiloh, Tate, choice, they don't have Andrew anymore. I mean, Choice is one. Will he know him? That's hard. That's hard.

TODD: Also very difficult for the one member of the hot shots who was not killed, a young man named Brendan McDonough working as a lookout who had just radioed his position to the crew and was on the move when the others were caught in the fire.

We've tried unsuccessfully to contact McDonough. Juliann Ashcraft and Deborah Pfingston tell us he's devastated.

Brian Todd, CNN, Prescott, Arizona.


BALDWIN: I know. Our hearts are with those in Prescott, your hearts are as well.

So many of you are asking us how you can help. There is a way. You can go to our Impact Your World page.

Go to for ways you can help the family members of those who lost those 19 young men in that fire last Sunday.

Coming up next, it is an emotional time for this entire community there, but as Brian Todd just mentioned, there is one young man who is feeling a pain no one in the world can understand.

He is the sole survivor, the 20th man of this Hot Shot crew, the only one who didn't die in the fire.

More on his story, next.



JOE WOYJECK, SON KILLED IN FIRE: I've never been in a position where it felt like a bad dream, but my wife and I both tried to sleep at night last night, talking.

And that word kept coming out. Nightmare is the word that kept coming out. It hasn't really sunk in yet that I'm not going to get a phone call.


BALDWIN: The sole survivor of the Granite Mountain Hotshots is pleading for privacy right now. His name is Brendan McDonough.

He was stationed as the lookout on Sunday when he saw the wildfire changing direction. He radioed his crew moments before they were killed.

CNN's Kyung Lah shares the story of the 20th firefighter, the sole survivor from the Granite Mountain's Hot Shot crew.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A stirring tribute to the 19 firefighters who lost their lives on Sunday, the small community, devastated.