The memories have a similarity in the glowing recollections of who they were and in the depth of sadness at their loss.
Of Clayton Whitted, 28, member of the Granite Mountain Hotshots (the elite firefighters group) a coach said, “When he walked into a room, he could really light it up.”
Of Scott Norris, also 28, a neighbor said, “He was just a model of a young, ideal American gentleman.”
Of Chris MacKenzie, 30, and the son of a firefighter, a friend said he “lived life to the fullest...and was fighting fire just like his dad.”
The young men were, of course, part of the Hotshots, 19 of whom died fighting a wilderness fire near Prescott, Ariz., in the worst lost of firefighters since Sept. 11, 2001. A community’s mourning was total, overwhelming and suffered both with grief and appreciation.
These firefighters were characterized as the Marines of firefighting by Randolph Harrison, a ranger in Wake Country for the N.C. Forest Service and a former Hotshot himself (not in Prescott).
Indeed, the 20 Hotshots (one survived) were fighting a wilderness blaze, deadly and unpredictable. They had to resort to a final step of covering themselves with special protective gear to try to survive a wildfire rolling over them, but the heat was too intense and the fire too long-lasting.
Just as Sept. 11 raised in many Americans a consciousness about the dangers of police work and firefighting, so this profound tragedy will do the same. We must never take for granted the work of these types of individuals, never forget that their work, to serve others, requires a special degree of magnitude in courage.
When we lose such people in the line of their work, the loss is shared by all, no matter where they may live. Prescott is without some of its most outstanding, and certainly its most brave, citizens. And so is America.