It’s been a little more than a month since Arizona witnessed one of the worst tragedies in its history. On June 30, 2013, a wind-fueled wildfire trapped and killed 19 members of the Prescott-based Granite Mountain Hotshots, leaving only one survivor who was nearby. The wild land firefighters were positioned to try to block the blaze from destroying the small town of Yarnell, which ended up losing more than 100 homes. As a photojournalist, it’s hard to prepare for the kind of drama that ensues after a tragedy of this magnitude.
Much of my time spent covering the tragedy was in Prescott, where most of the firefighters were based. An amazing memorial, which became a place of pilgrimage for family, friends and firefighters from around the country, was erected on the fence surrounding the station of the Granite Mountain Hotshots.
Covering a situation, like a small-town memorial, can be very tense. People are hesitant to speak and you have to balance your need to make images with your subjects’ need for privacy. Most of the people I approached were open to speaking, while others needed private time to mourn and pay their respects.
Never having actually been to the fire zone, it was hard to really understand the immense loss until I witnessed the hearse procession from Phoenix back to Prescott. Seeing 19 hearses, each escorting a fallen firefighter, was an extremely emotional sight. People from around the state came to watch the procession, lining up on highway overpasses to wish the 19 farewell.
The lone survivor, Brendan McDonough, has rarely been seen in public since the tragedy. I had the opportunity the other night to cover a golf fundraiser in which he spoke. It was inspiring to see someone who has been through so much come out and rally to support the families who lost their love ones only a month ago. This is perhaps the last photo that I’ll shoot that involves the Yarnell tragedy since my time with the Republic is coming to a close and I’m not sure where I’ll be a month from now. As an intern, I’m thankful that I was given the opportunity to cover an event as powerful as the Yarnell tragedy along with the paper’s talented staff photographers, but the experience makes me feel fortunate for all the baseball games, press conferences and city hall debates that I have to cover on a day-to-day basis. The Arizona Republic did an incredible job covering the fire and I was lucky to be part of such a capable team. The Republic’s Yarnell coverage, in it’s entirety, can be found here.