Almost 30 years ago, I was a firefighter. Once a firefighter, always a firefighter, even if just in my heart and in my memories. I loved everything (well, almost everything) about that job.
The adrenalin rush when the call came
The drive / hike / flight to the location
The sights, smells, and feel of fire
And then there’s the work. Back breaking work. Digging fire line; putting out hot spots; mopping up; feeling the ground for heat.
The soot, found later, on almost every part of the body and in almost every orifice.
The post fire meal of steak or burger, and beer.
Whether a Groundpounder, a Smoke Jumper, or on a Helitack crew, fire fighters can’ t wait to get out there and battle the fire.
Thirty years ago, we didn’t see massive fires like we do now. I never fought against such destruction and devastation. I was aware of the danger, and practiced getting into my “shake and bake” fire tent during training. But I truly didn’t worry when I went out on a fire.
Perhaps that is the benefit of being young.
I wear my firefighting boots when I ride. I’ve shown my friends the drops of retardant still visible after all these years. Those boots carried me up and down the mountains of northern Idaho then, and they protect me as I ride the bike now.
After 30 years, I’ve had to have the boots repaired a few times and I always make sure that the cobbler knows not to remove the history
The signs of wear,
the still visible fire retardant,
and the miles I’ve worn them, whether on the ground or on the bike.
I look at this picture from 1982, of myself with my buddies and dear friends, Kevin and Randy. Look how YOUNG we were. Randy, a 30 year smoke jumper who just retired last year knows and lived the danger. Me? I thought of it as the best job ever, but I never really felt the danger.
I see us in this photo and realize that at 21 to 23 years of age, we were the same age of many of the young men who died on the Yarnell Hill Fire.
We can argue the reasons for the tragedy:
triple-digit temperatures, erratic winds, and dry conditions that caused the fire to explode;
years of fire suppression that increased the fuel on the ground
the building of homes too close to that fuel
But what really matters is that 19 wildland firefighters are gone.
The Granite Mountain Hotshots
Andrew Ashcroft – Age 29
Robert Caldwell – Age 23
Travis Carter – Age 31
Dustin Deford – Age 24
Christopher Mackenzie- Age: 30
Eric Marsh – Age: 43
Grant McKee- Age: 21
Sean Misner – Age: 26
Scott Norris – Age: 28
Wade Parker- Age: 22
John Percin- Age: 24
Anthony Rose – Age: 23
Jesse Steed – Age: 36
Joe Thurston – Age: 32
Travis Turbyfill- Age: 27
William Warneke – Age: 25
Clayton Whitted – Age: 28
Kevin Woyjeck – Age: 21
Garret Zuppiger – Age: 27
To Donate to help cover costs for funerals, and family / survivors, please see the website for the Wildland Firefighter Foundation
Just beautiful LB.
Thank you, Joe. I just hope I did this awful tragedy justice
You absolutely did, big time !
Prescott Arizona will always stay in my mind ,for what ever reason , this sad story hit home the morning I first herd of these 19 lost soles.My heart goes out for the family and friends of these brave men. Good Job LD.
Thanks so much for the comments … and you are so right, Michael. It’s hard to put this story out of our minds, isn’t it?
Readers: I’ve had several folks email me with comments and I’m going to post them here so you can read them also. Normally I don’t post the comments that I receive by FB and email, but I want to be sure to remember them:
“We are a peculiar and elite group who can become tearful and sentimental studying our boots. Your words are very evocative and I have spent the week grieving and grateful that my life in the forest service was an exciting adventure and not a tragedy for my family. I loved all of the pictures. Thank you for sharing those memories”
“A beautiful and poignant story about you and the firefighters”
“I’ve been thinking of you this week. Can’t believe I forgot to mention this tragedy to you the other day. Loved your perspective in the blog. Almost like your boots were talking….”
Another: Laurie, what a wonderful photographic essay. thank you.
Yep, another: Very touching. Made me cry.
Another: Very touching blog post — and very sad.
So poignant … A moving testimony. I knew the history of your boots but I will look at them differently from this day forward.
Thank you Liz. Love you!
I still wear my boots that were in New Orleans , Haiti , and all places between . They become a part of your history . So very much enjoy your stories and photos ! Ride safe.
Exactly! They are a part of our history. Thanks for sharing and for your comments!
Thanks for sharing your reflections on this. Prayers of comfort to all those who are affected and prayers of thanks to all of those who continue to serve.
Thanks Rick … your faith and prayers are comforting!
A personal and meaningful post. Poignant and heartbreaking. Thank you for your service. I still have my work jacket from my days in the Navy. I can almost zip it up.
Oh that made me smile!!
This was a wonderful post. Loved the boots and feel the loss of those firefighters…
I can’t believe you were a fire fightter!
Thanks Mae … as I thought about how to write about the tragedy, I realized I didn’t have many photos from my days on the firecrew. Then I thought about the boots. I worked 3 years (actually 3 fire seasons) out in Idaho … exciting, thrilling, hard, fun … but I never really thought about dying.
Wonderful photoessay! My fav is probably the one of the boots with the bike.
I really like that one, too. In fact, I made it my profile shot … 🙂 Thanks for checking out this post. My simple tribute to the 19 and a small labor of love.
Thank you for this. Made me cry.
Hey Crystal, pretty terrible thing for sure
this is such a real and fully realized piece, Laurie…your pictures and words elevate the work and people in a beautiful memorial expression
thank you for doing that
Thank you, Liana. I’ve been watching the procession this evening; escorting the 19 back home. So incredibly sad
I am pouring vodka into your lemonade…calling you out to the porch….let’s listen to the cicadas, girl
yep, that sounds perfect.
Oh if these boots could talk, just imagine everything they could tell us♥ This is one of the best posts you have done!
That means a great deal, Laurie. Thanks
You are just one cool chick LB. My gosh, how many gals would want to do that job let alone have a passion for it. I love that you let your boots age with your memories too. How cool that you can still use them doing something you love. Of course we saw the coverage of these young men and the tragic loss of life. I think these homes are being built in areas they probably shouldn’t, look at the cost. My ex FIL is a retired entomologist. (study of bugs) and worked his entire career for the forestry department. Fire is necessary for the health of a forest. We are impeding the need for fire to purge the forest of pests and they’re now resistant to control agents. Maybe we should rethink development in these area?
I completely agree!!! For all the reasons that you stated, and also because we are taking away habitat for wildland creatures!
This is simply beautiful. If only our lives were as permanent as those boots. Even if it needs a bit of repairing every now and then. My heart goes to those brave souls. And you’ve made a beautiful tribute to them by posting this.
Thankyou so much for reading, for understanding, and for commenting.That means alot.
Thank you for sending me the link to this post Laurie – what a beautiful testament you made to fire fighters in general and these young men in particular. I am a little in awe of your life – how I would love to sit with you – and a bottle or two of wine 🙂 and hear your stories.
You made me smile though when you repeat several times that you never thought about dying back then and of course you didn’t. We don’t when we are young, do we. We believe we are immortal, somehow immune. it is why when were young and those who are young now, do such crazy things that make me, now I am no longer young, cringe 🙂 Life crisis, life events, accidents, all play their part to make us learn to value and respect life more dearly.
I love how you instruct the boot repairer not to remove the history from your boots – and I am so glad they escaped your accident unscathed!
It warms my heart to know that you took the time to read this blog, Pauline. This tragedy really shook me even though it’s been 30 years since I worked a fireline. Thank you, for by reading this you are paying tribute to them.
And I look forward to the day when we gather for talk, wine, and laughter. xoxo
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