Local firefighters react to the deaths of 19 hot shots in Arizona


Reporter - Briana Conner
Photographer - Michael Bradford

MARSHALL COUNTY, Ky. — The nation continues mourning the loss of 19 brave men who died fighting the Yarnell Hill fire in Arizona. The highly trained and highly specialized group of "hot shots" were digging fire lines Sunday when they were overtaken by the flames.

The name comes from the fact that they are often the ones in the hottest part of fires, and their specialty is wildfire suppression. This tragedy marks the deadliest day for fire fighters since 9/11, and the wildfire itself is the deadliest in the U.S. since 1933. The men and women who risk their lives fighting fires at Land Between the Lakes are trying to come to terms with their job descriptions and these recent deaths.
T.J. Boyer has trained and worked as a hot shot fire fighter. "Put a lot of blood sweat and tears into what we do," he said. He knows how dangerous it can be on the front lines of a wildfire. "A prescribed burn jumped one of our lines, and right there in the heat we were digging lines trying to put a stop to it." It was a situation that could have turned deadly, like it did for 19 hot shots in Arizona.

"I thought, how can that be? As much effort as these folks put in to learning how to do it right and practicing different scenarios... but there's always something that's unexpected," said Pat Fowler. He has been in the fire fighting business for almost 30 years and said things can change in a flash. "You never see it coming. You have situational awareness, but the speed that things can happen... really it can go that fast," Fowler said.

That's a scenario Andrew Pascarella trains firefighters at LBL to be ready for. "We just try to pound safety into our fire fighters brains," he said. They're lessons trainee Justin Weaklea is learning to help prevent another tragedy. "It's unthinkable. What cat you say about it? I pray for the families," said Weaklea.  

The hot shot team that died in Arizona made up about 20 percent of the Prescott Fire Department. The wildfire they were fighting has grown to more than 8,000 acres and has destroyed more than 200 structures.