The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

July 2, 2013

Arizona 'Hotshots' lived the meaning of the word

PRESCOTT, Ariz. (AP) — They were fathers and expectant fathers. High school football players and former Marines. Smoke-eaters' sons and first-generation firefighters.

What bound the members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots together was a "love of hard work and arduous adventure," and a willingness to risk their lives to protect others. And now, 19 families share a bond of grief.

All but one of the Prescott-based crew's 20 members died Sunday when a wind-whipped wildfire overran them on a mountainside north of Phoenix. It was the nation's biggest loss of firefighters in a wildfire in 80 years and the deadliest single day for fire crews since the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

In the firefighting world, "Hotshot" is the name given to those willing to go to the hottest part of a blaze. They are the best of the best, crews filled with adventure-seekers whose hard training ready them for the worst.

"We are routinely exposed to extreme environmental conditions, long work hours, long travel hours and the most demanding of fireline tasks," the group's website says. "Comforts such as beds, showers and hot meals are not always common."

Above all, the crew's members prided themselves on their problem-solving, teamwork and "ability to make decisions in a stressful environment."

"It's a younger man's game," said Prescott Fire Chief Dan Fraijo, and the statistics bear him out. Of those who died, 14 were in their 20s; their average age was just 26.

At least three members of the crew were following in their fathers' firefighting footsteps.

Kevin Woyjeck, 21, used to accompany his dad, Capt. Joe Woyjeck, to the Los Angeles County Fire Department, joining in sometimes on ride-alongs. The firehouse was like a second home to him, said Keith Mora, an inspector with that agency.

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