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Prescott fire chief prepping for holidays without hotshots

PHOENIX -- The man known as the father of the Granite Mountain Hotshots said it's going to be tough knowing his hotshots won't be home for the holidays.

Prescott Wildland Fire Division Chief Darrell Willis started the Granite Mountain Hotshots in 2001 and on June 30, 19 of the teams 20 members died when the Yarnell Hill Fire overtook them after a dramatic shift in the wind direction in a canyon in Yarnell.

Willis said the toughest days are still ahead.

"We're starting to heal. There has been a lot of activity and tremendous support for the families internationally and the reality is starting to hit us even harder with the holidays here. I had these guys over to my house for dinner. I knew them, their wives and kids, one of Granite Mountain team members dated my daughter. My son was on the team in 2007."

Willis responded to a question that has been asked many times since the tragedy on June 30: Will the Granite Mountain Hotshots be reformed with new team members?

"No, right now no," he said. "It's very complicated with the workman's comp, the insurance pool. The city is expecting a huge payout for the life of the families for workman comp benefits and the premiums are going to be high."

And even though Willis doesn't believe that the Granite Mountain team will ever be brought back with new members, that doesn't mean the rebuilding isn't underway.

"I'm pulling together a fuels crew to do some work made up of seasonal Prescott National Forest hotshots to help us do work this winter around town," he said. "There's plenty of work to do."

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About the Author


Position: Senior News Reporter. Started with KTAR July 4, 1999.

Favorite spots in Arizona: Pinetop-Lakeside, Alpine, Greer.

Have covered some of the biggest stories in Arizona including nine of the top 10 largest wildfires in state history. The Wallow Fire in 2011 became the largest fire in state history. Rodeo-Chediski Fire in June 2002, which is the second largest fire in Arizona. Covered the Yarnell Hill Tragedy in June 2013 that left 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots dead.

Favorite movies: True Grit, both 1969 John Wayne classic and the remake with Jeff Bridges and Lonesome Dove.

Sports Teams: Washington State University Cougars, Texas Longhorns, The University of Montana Grizzlies.

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