"We are going to hallowed ground," says Jim Paxon, spokesman for the Arizona Forestry Division, moments before leading reporters and TV crews to the site where 19 members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots were killed in a June 30 wildfire.
"They are almost superhuman," Paxon drawls to reporters gathered on the morning of July 23. "As we go up there, there's a Granite Mountain Hotshots shirt on a cactus. We would ask that you touch the shirt . . . in reverence to the loss."
Darrell Willis, the Granite Mountain Hotshots direct supervisor in the Prescott Fire Department said that their deaths were God's will
"The voice of what actually happened, we'll never know," Willis says. "We're not going to have that information from [the dead men]."
Willis continues, "It was just one of those things that happened. You can call it an accident. I just say that God had a different plan for that crew at this time."
I don't know how much this tragedy gets covered nowadays outside of Arizona, but it still dominates the news here. I have no problem sending all the sympathy in the world to the young families of these men. But I am exhausted with the fetishizing as heroic of what looks to be a total screw up. An experienced crew had absolutely no business being where they were, or in this day and age so badly out of communication. They either blundered into, or were incompetently led into (the facts are still coming out) an absurdly dangerous position. At best, they were there to protect a ranch house that had already been evacuated and was likely insured a lot better than the lives of many of the crew members.
From my observations operating for years in the US Forest Service and other wilderness areas, wildland firefighting needs a serious housecleaning. I thought for sure this tragedy would be a stick driven into that particular anthill, almost guaranteeing scrutiny and accountability might follow. Now I am not so sure.