A Memorial State Park to Honor 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots

September 1, 2016, Department, by Ken Sliwa and Glenn Schlottman

Memorial site at the base of Yarnell Hill where 19 of the 20 Hotshots were forced to deploy their shelters. The lone survivor, Brendan McDonough, was nearby, serving as the lookout.On the evening of Friday, June 28, 2013, lightning struck a hilltop above the town of Yarnell, Arizona, starting what would become known as the Yarnell Hill Fire. Early Sunday morning, June 30, the 20-member Granite Mountain Hotshots crew working the nearby Doce Fire, was deployed to the site.

After spending most of the day fighting the fire to save Yarnell, its people, property and land, at 4:15 p.m., the crew was pushed back by the fire toward a ridge overlooking the town. They headed down a steep ridge into a bowl canyon in an attempt to reach the safety of the nearby Boulder Springs Ranch. While they worked to reach the ranch, cutting through brush, cactus and trees up to 8-feet tall, the fire was working around their position. It trapped them within the bowl, forcing them to deploy shelters to wait it out.

Officials lost radio contact with the crew at 4:40 p.m. as the fire overtook their position and the lives of 19 of the 20 members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots. The 20th member, Brendan McDonough, was nearby, serving as the lookout, and survived. The fire subsided and word about the 19 fallen hotshots swept across the community, state and nation. Efforts began to preserve their legacy and honor their sacrifice.

Sixty Arizona state senators and representatives introduced House Bill 2624 during the 2014 legislative session, appropriating $500,000 for the purchase of the land at the site of the Yarnell Hill Fire. The bill required that a site board be created, consisting of family members, state and local agency representatives, and the director of Arizona State Parks. Together, the Yarnell Hill Memorial Site Board worked to develop a memorial park at the site where the Granite Mountain Hotshots perished.

Arizona State Parks officially purchased 308 acres of land June 30, 2015, to create Arizona’s first memorial state park, the Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial State Park, honoring the memory of the hotshots. The design team’s vision began to take shape in late 2015 to create parking access, a 2.85-mile main trail leading to an observation deck, an additional .75-mile trail that leads from the observation deck down to the deployment site, and to protect and preserve the area where the Hotshots bravely made their last stand. Steel and stones now surround the barren earth the crew had cleared of vegetation. A quiet path and benches offer a space to reflect. The brush that once covered the basin is gone, exposing a rocky landscape. Mountains rise up and curl around the west while the resilient town of Yarnell lies to the east. 

The Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial State Park is expected to open in November 2016. The trail to the memorial site will require a 7-mile round-trip hike. Along the trail are 19 stone plaques honoring each of the fallen Granite Mountain Hotshots and six interpretive signs that tell their story. The observation deck has additional signs explaining the events that led up to the crew becoming trapped. 

The parking area serves as an entrance to the memorial and is an opportunity for those not taking the hike to learn about the Granite Mountain Hotshots and to pay their respects. The trailhead has signage describing the story of the crew and a granite memorial “Wall of Heroes” with plaques highlighting each of the 19 crew members.

The park was created through the collaboration of dedicated state officials, a generous donation of $229,000 from the Arizona Public Service Foundation, public donations, volunteers and staff from Arizona State Parks. One group of volunteers, a crew of dedicated trail-builders from the American Conservation Experience, camped on-site for four months to complete the main trail. Working together with a sense of urgency, volunteers and staff completed the Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial State Park in just over a year. There will be an ongoing need for fundraising as the park continues to develop, as well as to pay for ongoing preservation and maintenance. To learn more about the Granite Mountain Hotshots, the park or to make a donation, please visit the Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial State Park website. Tax-deductible donations are managed through the Arizona State Parks Foundation, a 501(c)(3) organization.

Arizona State Parks would like to thank the families, firefighters, state and local leaders, and the public for their support in creating a lasting memorial to remember the sacrifice that firefighters make each and every day. The Granite Mountain Hotshots proudly embraced the motto, “Esse Quam Videri” — To be, rather than to seem. 

The 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots: Eric Marsh, Jesse Steed, Clayton Whitted, Robert Caldwell, Travis Carter, Travis Turbyfill, Christopher MacKenzie, Andrew Ashcraft, Joe Thurston, Wade Parker, Anthony Rose, Garret Zuppiger, Scott Norris, Dustin DeFord, William Warneke, Kevin Woyjeck, John Percin Jr., Grant McKee and Sean Misner 

Ken Sliwa is the Community Relations Administrator for Arizona State Parks. Glenn Schlottman is the Chief of Marketing for Arizona State Parks.