Hotshots killed in Ariz. fire remembered, mourned

Published on NewsOK Modified: July 1, 2013 at 11:41 pm •  Published: July 1, 2013
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PRESCOTT, Ariz. (AP) — Nineteen members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, based in Prescott, Ariz., were killed Sunday when a windblown wildfire overcame them north of Phoenix. It was the deadliest single day for U.S. firefighters since Sept. 11. Fourteen of the victims were in their 20s. Here are the stories of some of those who died:

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ANDREW ASHCRAFT: AN ATHLETIC, GO-GETTER

Prescott High School physical education teacher and coach Lou Beneitone taught many of the Hotshots, and remembered 29-year-old Andrew Ashcraft as a fitness-oriented student.

"He had some athletic ability in him and he was a go-getter, too. You could pretty much see, from young freshman all the way, he was going to be physically active."

Beneitone said athletic prowess was a must for the Hotshots. "That's what it takes. You gotta be very physically fit, and you gotta like it, gotta like the hard work."

Ashcraft, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was honored to be a member of the Hotshot crew, and "he just had a really sweet spirit about him," Elise Smith, a Prescott, Ariz., resident, told The Deseret News of Salt Lake City.

Ashcraft left behind a wife, Juliann, and four children, the newspaper reported.

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ROBERT CALDWELL: THE SMART ONE

Friends characterized Robert Caldwell, 23, as the smart man in the bunch.

"He was really smart, he had a good sense of humor," said Chase Madrid, worked as a Hotshot for two years, but sat this year out.

"He was one of the smart guys in the crew who could get the weather, figure out the mathematics. It was just natural for him," Madrid said.

It was Caldwell's intelligence and know-how that got him appointed as a squad boss.

His cousin, Grant McKee, was also a Hotshots member and also was killed on Sunday.

"Robert was a gentle giant — he was man of few words," said his aunt, Laurie McKee.

He had just gotten married in November, and had a five year old step-son.

"Both of these boys were only interested in having a family life. Robert was newly married, and Grant was engaged. They just wanted the house and the dog," she said.

Mary Hoffmann was grandmother to both boys.

"To have two grandson's gone, it's devastation," she said.

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TRAVIS CARTER: STRONG AND HUMBLE

At Captain Crossfit, a gym near the firehouse where the Hotshots were stationed, Travis Carter was known as the strongest one out of the crew — but also the most humble.

"No one could beat him," trainer Janine Pereira said. "But the thing about him, was he would never brag about it. He would just kill everyone and then go and start helping someone else finish."

Carter, 31, was famous for once holding a plank for 45 minutes, and he was notorious for making up brutal workouts.

The crew recently did a five mile run during wilderness training, then he made them go to Captain Crossfit in the afternoon for another really hard workout.

"The other guys who came in here always said that even though he was in charge, he was always the first one at the fire, the first one in action," Pereira said.

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DUSTIN DEFORD: DRY SENSE OF HUMOR

Dustin DeFord, 24, tried out for the Hotshot crew in January 2012, telling friends on Twitter that he had passed the physical fitness test and asking for prayers as he moved on to the interview stage of the process.

He moved to Arizona from Montana after he was hired, and he worked to improve his skills on the climbing wall at a gym near the firehouse.

"He listened very well. He was very respectful," said Tony Burris, a trainer at Captain Crossfit. "He kind of had a dry sense of humor."

Another trainer, Janine Pereira, echoed that sentiment.

"You would say something to him, and he would respond with a crack, which was funny because he was so shy," she said.

Soon after he interviewed for the Hotshots, DeFord signed up for the Spartan Race, a rugged, eight-mile challenge through the mud and around various obstacles in Chandler, a suburb of Phoenix.

"I am being amazing," he wrote on Twitter, in reference to the race.

Several months later, in June 2012, he tweeted: "First Fire of the season."

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CHRIS MACKENZIE: 'JUST LIKE HIS DAD'

An avid snowboarder, 30-year-old Chris MacKenzie grew up in California's San Jacinto Valley, where he was a 2001 graduate of Hemet High School and a former member of the town's fire department. He joined the U.S. Forest Service in 2004, then transferred two years ago to the Prescott Fire Department, longtime friend Dav Fulford-Brown told The Riverside Press-Enterprise.

MacKenzie, like at least one other member of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, had followed his father into firefighting. Michael MacKenzie, a former Moreno Valley Fire Department captain, confirmed that he had been informed of his son's death.

"I can't talk about it," he said.

Fulford-Brown, also a former firefighter, feared for the worst as soon as he heard the news of the Arizona firefighters. "I said, 'Oh my God, that's Chris' crew.' I started calling him and calling him and got no answer," he told The Press-Enterprise. MacKenzie, he said, "lived life to the fullest ... and was fighting fire just like his dad."

"He was finishing his credentials to get promoted and loved the people. It's an insane tragedy.

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ERIC MARSH: HOOKED ON FIREFIGHTING

Eric Marsh, 43, was an avid mountain biker who grew up in Ashe County, N.C., but became hooked on firefighting while studying biology at Arizona State University, said Leanna Racquer, the ex-wife of his cousin. Marsh lived with Racquer and her then-husband during the winters from 1992 through 1996 in North Carolina, but kept returning to Arizona during fire season.

After college, he kept working as a firefighter, eventually landing a full-time job and settling in northern Arizona. He even moved his parents to the state, she said. Marsh was superintendent of the Hotshot crew and the oldest of the 19 who died.

"He's was great — he was the best at what he did," Racquer said. "He is awesome and well-loved and they are hurting," she said of his family.

Marsh was married but had no children, said his cousin, Scott Marsh of Pisgah Forest, N.C. His father, John Marsh, told the Jefferson Post newspaper in Jefferson, N.C., that his only child "was a great son."

"He was compassionate and caring about his crew."

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GRANT MCKEE: GIVING NATURE

Grant McKee, 21, loved to give things away.

"Even as a child, I'd ask him where things were, and he'd say, 'Oh such and such liked it.' And sometimes it really cost a lot! But he'd say, 'Oh he liked it so much,'" said his grandmother, Mary Hoffmann.

"So on his birthday, I started to say, 'I hope you're going to keep this!'" she said.

McKee's cousin, Robert Caldwell, also was a Hotshot and also was killed on Sunday.

"I had four grandchildren, but Grant was the sweetest most giving nature of any of my grandkids," Hoffman said. "We used to think he was a little angel."

McKee's mother said Grant was training to be an emergency medical technician and only intended to work with the Hotshots for the summer.

During EMT training, he would ask for extra shifts at the emergency room. And because his superiors liked him, they would give them to him, Laurie McKee said.

"Grant was one of the most likable people you could ever meet," she said. "Grant was friendly, he was outgoing. Everybody loved Grant."

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SEAN MISNER: 'TREMENDOUS HEART AND DESIRE'

Sean Misner, 26, leaves behind a wife who is seven months pregnant, said Mark Swanitz, principal of Santa Ynez Valley Union High School in Santa Barbara County, where Misner graduated in 2005.

Misner played varsity football and also participated in the school's sports medicine program where he wrapped sprained ankles and took care of sidelined athletes.

"He was a team player, a real helper," Swanitz told The Associated Press on Monday.

In high school, Misner played several positions including wide receiver and defensive back. He was slim for a high school football player, but that didn't stop him from tackling his opponents, recalled retired football coach Ken Gruendyke.

"He played with tremendous heart and desire," Gruendyke said. "He wasn't the biggest or fastest guy on the team but he played with great emotion and intensity."

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