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A day of reflection, moving forward in Prescott

A metal sculpture commemorates fallen Hotshots at Prescott Wildland Division. (Jim Cross/KTAR)

PRESCOTT, Ariz. -- Monday marks the one-year anniversary of the loss of 19 Granite Mountain Hotshot firefighters in the Yarnell Hill Tragedy.

It was the worst loss of firefighters since 9/11.

Prescott Fire Wildland Division Chief Darrell Willis helped found the team. He came to be known as "The Father of the Granite Mountain Hotshots," a fitting title, given how they truly were like his own sons.

Willis visited the Hotel St. Michael, where an exhibit honoring the fallen firefighters is on display. The exhibit includes a fraction of the thousands of items left outside the team's base, Fire Station 7, after the Yarnell Hill Fire. Willis was overcome with emotion.

"I was hoping the pain would go away," he said. "I've now come to realize that it's not going to."

Willis gave KTAR a rare peek inside Station 7, where a brand new metal sculpture is on the wall, featuring the belt buckles and logos of every hotshot crew in America.

"It's an unbelievable showing of love, gratitude and care," said Willis.

Another show of support came from a father and daughter in Flagstaff who spent 100 hours on a handcrafted table, also now at Station 7.

"It was milled out of a big juniper tree and then [they] engraved it with the name of each firefighter we lost," he explained. "It's a prized possession that we will take care of forever."

Bobby Woyjeck's brother Kevin was one of the Hotshot members who died in the June 2013 fire. He came to Prescott for the anniversary, and a year after the loss, he still struggles.

"It was the worst day of my life; everything is a blur. I had to inform my parents that Kevin had passed away and no child should ever have to do that," Woyjeck recalled. "I have nothing but praise for Prescott. It's strange being here, but it's awesome to be here."

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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