Member Among 19 Firefighters Who Died in Arizona Fire
By Ryan McDonald, Church News staff writer
- Brother Ashcraft was part of a 20-member elite firefighting crew called the Granite Mountain Hotshot crew.
- Hot, gusty winds blew the fire right into the Hotshot crew, killing 19.
- About 40 Church members evacuated safely from their homes; some of the homes were lost.
“Homes can be replaced. But 19 firefighters lost their lives. That’s the tragic thing.”
—Russ Reason, president of the Kirkland Branch
The fire that swept through Yarnell, Arizona, on June 30 claimed the life of Andrew Ashcraft, a member of the Willow Creek Ward, Prescott Arizona Stake. He was one of the 19 firefighters who died fighting the blaze.
Brother Ashcraft was part of the 20-member Granite Mountain Hotshot crew, an elite group of firefighters tasked with digging the fire line and cutting brush to make a fuel break for the Yarnell Hill Fire, which by that afternoon had consumed more than 8,300 acres in an area about 80 miles northwest of Phoenix. According to state forestry officials, hot, gusty winds blew the fire right into the Hotshot crew, which deployed fire shelters intended to protect them from the flames. The fire overwhelmed the protective technology; 19 members of the 20-member crew were killed.
According to Elice Smith of Prescott, Brother Ashcraft was excited and honored to be a member of the Hotshot crew. She said that when he was her family’s home teacher, he was “excited telling us about what he was going to be doing.”
“He just had a really sweet spirit about him,” Sister Smith said Monday, July 1. “We’ve been mourning ever since we heard [of his death] last night.”
Russ Reason, president of the Kirkland Branch that serves Yarnell, a town of about 700, said 40 Latter-day Saints were safely evacuated out of the way of the fire. Because families had not been allowed to return to their homes by press time, President Reason couldn’t give specific numbers but thought as many as 11 homes of Church members had been lost. His home was among them.
“Homes can be replaced,” President Reason said. “But 19 firefighters lost their lives. That’s the tragic thing.”
Andrew and Juliann Ashcraft and three of their four children. Brother Ashcraft was among 19 firefighters killed in the Yarnell Hill Fire in Arizona on June 30. Double Scoop Photography.
Brother Ashcraft leaves behind his wife, Juliann, and their four children. Funeral services for the firefighters were pending as of press time.
Prescott Arizona Stake President Steven Campbell said help for Church members and others will be provided when a better assessment of the damage can be made. Some members of the Kirkland Branch whose homes in the area were not damaged have offered temporary residence to displaced members. Church members in Prescott, about an hour and a half north of Yarnell, have also offered their homes for members to stay in.
“I think we’re going to be able to provide housing for everyone who needs it,” President Campbell said. “And as we go forward, we’ll be able to provide clothing and food and other things people may need. We’re here to help our members and others in the community the best that we can.”
R. Scott Taylor, president of the Arizona Phoenix Mission, said two missionaries living in Yarnell got out safely, although they lost about 70 percent of their belongings, including their bicycles and journals. He said missionaries in the area were ready to provide service as needed once the fire danger passed.