- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Vice President Joseph R. Biden on Tuesday said 19 elite firefighters who died battling an Arizona wildfire were heroes “long before we knew their names.”

“All men are created equal, but then a few became firefighters,” Mr. Biden told a memorial service in Prescott, Ariz. “Thank God for you all.”

The firefighters were killed June 30 while trying to protect nearby residents from the blaze on Yarnell Hill, north of Phoenix. But wind gusts shifted the fast-moving blaze, and only one member of the 20-man crew — Brendan McDonough, who served as a lookout — survived.

Vice President Joseph R. Biden on Tuesday said 19 elite firefighters who died battling an Arizona wildfire were heroes “long before we knew their names.”

“All men are created equal, but then a few became firefighters,” Mr. Biden said at a memorial service in Prescott Valley, Ariz. “Thank God for you all.”

The firefighters were killed June 30 while trying to protect residents from the blaze on Yarnell Hill, north of Phoenix. But wind gusts shifted the fast-moving blaze, and only one member of the 20-man crew — Brendan McDonough, who served as a lookout — survived.

A lightning strike had started the fire, which destroyed 109 homes in Yavapai County. The firefighters who died ranged in age from 21 to 43 and were specially trained members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots team based in Prescott. The large-scale tragedy, the biggest loss of U.S. firefighters since the Sept. 11 attacks, moved the nation and devastated the local community.

“To America, I say, ‘Thank you,’” Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer said, specifically thanking President Obama for his assistance.

Ms. Brewer wrote to Mr. Obama on Tuesday to formally request a federal Major Disaster Declaration for the affected area, citing the loss of life and widespread destruction.

The firefighters’ bodies were taken on a 125-mile procession on Sunday from Phoenix to Prescott in white hearses. On Tuesday, mourners crowded into an arena to honor the dead with Mr. Biden, Ms. Brewer, the state’s congressional delegation and local dignitaries attending.

The somber, yet uplifting, service was marked by songs such as “Amazing Grace,” the reading of each firefighter’s name — followed by the ceremonial striking of two bells — and the tearful remarks of Mr. McDonough, the sole survivor, who read “The Hotshots’ Prayer” and said he missed his “brothers.”

Organizers of the memorial attempted to keep a personal spotlight on each of the fallen, distributing programs with a description of each firefighter’s life outside of work. The crew’s logo also featured prominently, bordered in purple and reading, “Last Alarm, 6/30/2013,” at the bottom.

Prescott Mayor Marlin Kuykendall pledged to “remember each man in his own right.”

“Today I think of them not as having fallen, but rather as having risen,” he told assembled mourners. “Risen far above any of us to a place of peace and comfort.”

Mr. Biden recalled the bravery of firefighters who once battled a fire at his own home, after it had been struck by lightning.

“You are a rare breed,” he told firefighters in attendance.

He also evoked the book of Psalms, in which help is sought from the mountains.

“It came. It came in the form of 20 Granite Mountain Hotshots, who rushed toward the flames as everyone else retreated,” he said. “And in the process, 19 of them gave their lives.”