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Gov. to dedicate memorial park for fallen Yarnell Hotshots

The memorial includes a trail and features individual plaques honoring each of the firefighters


George Murphy of the Yavapi Tribal Police pays his respects at a makeshift memorial outside the Granite Mountain Interagency Hotshot Crew fire station, Tuesday, July 2, 2013, in Prescott, Ariz., honoring 19 firefighters killed battling a wildfire near Yarnell, Ariz.

AP Photo/Chris Carlson

By Bob Christie
Associated Press

YARNELL, Ariz. — A rugged section of brush-covered hills where 19 Arizona firefighters were killed in a 2013 wildfire will be dedicated as a new state memorial park Tuesday.

Gov. Doug Ducey will be joined by family members of the fallen firefighters at a private dedication of the Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial State Park about 80 miles northwest of Phoenix. The park opens to the public on Wednesday.

The memorial includes a trail that leads to where the firefighters died and features individual plaques honoring each of the firefighters.

The members of the elite firefighting team were killed battling one of the state’s most devastating wildfires on June 30, 2013. Winds shifted and trapped them in a brush-choked box canyon. One member serving as a lookout survived.

The flames also destroyed 127 homes in the Yarnell area.

The state Legislature in 2014 spent $500,000 to buy 320 acres of state trust land and begin plans for the memorial. The state Parks Department bought the land last year and construction on the nearly 3 miles trail from the state highway to the spot where the flames trapped the firefighters was completed in June.

The trail, lined with memorial plaques for each of the firefighters, zig-zags from the highway up a steep slope to a ridgeline, then follows the ridgeline upslope to a spot with a view down into the canyon where the firefighters were killed. The trail then descends into the canyon to a memorial site where 19 wire baskets filled with rocks mark the spots where the flames overcame the crew. A flagpole is set in the center of a memorial site.

The crew members had been in a relatively safe position on a ridge top. For an unknown reason and without notifying anyone, they moved down the mountainside through an unburned area where they were trapped by a wall of flames when winds shifted the fire in their direction.

State workplace safety regulators blamed the largest loss of wildland firefighters since 1933 on the Arizona Forestry Division, saying they knowingly put protection of property ahead of safety and should have pulled crews out earlier.

A state investigation found that fire officials lacked key personnel to battle the Yarnell Hill Fire at critical times. An earlier investigation commissioned by the Arizona Forestry Division found that state fire officials communicated poorly but followed proper procedures.

The state paid a dozen families who sued over the fatalities $50,000 each and promised to change to how Arizona responds to fires and trains its fire crews. The survivors also received insurance and other benefits.

People who lost their homes are also suing the state.