As many in the Old West town of Prescott, Ariz., used the Independence Day celebration to honor 19 fallen firefighters, bereaved families began speaking more publically of their loved ones.
Coleen Turbyfill, mother of 27 year-old Travis Turbyfill, on Thursday recalled that she had misgivings when her son’s elite “Hotshot” firefighting crew set out for a fire burning so close she could see the flames, but he comforted her and told her, “This is what I love.”
Turbyfill and his 18 colleagues were killed last weekend battling a wildfire in Yarnell, not far from the place they called home.
A red-eyed Amanda Marsh called a press conference to make her first public statements about her husband, Hotshot leader and founder Eric Marsh.
“Eric and I don’t have children but he said that all the men on the crew were his kids,” she told reporters at the local high school, a row of 16 firefighters standing behind her for support.
Across town, more than 10,000 residents found release for days’ worth of pent up emotion in fireworks, dancing to patriotic songs, and the freedom to shout “America!” whenever the mood struck.
“It’s a relief,” said resident Todd Lynd as he watched a cover band play in front of a banner commemorating the fallen firefighters. “It’s hard to heal by yourself.”
Memorial Planned for Tuesday
The celebration – traditionally the biggest day of the year in this city of 40,000 – played out against the backdrop of handmade memorials, including clusters of 19 mini-American flags on grass lawns and rows of 19 candles glowing in packed restaurants.
Families who attended the nighttime fireworks display were together but apart from the crowd, escorted by police to a separate viewing area.
On Saturday, the town will hold its traditional July Fourth parade, which features cowboys on horses, and winds around the elm-lined courthouse square.
The men’s bodies, still in Phoenix for the autopsies, are expected to arrive on Sunday. Each firefighter will be driven in a hearse accompanied by motorcycle escorts and American flags.
A memorial service planned for Tuesday is expected to draw thousands of mourners.
Sunday’s tragedy raised questions of whether the usual precautions would have made any difference in the face of triple-digit temperatures, erratic winds and tinderbox conditions. A team of forest managers and safety experts is investigating.
Nearly 600 firefighters continue to fight the blaze, and it was 80 percent contained on Thursday night. It has destroyed more than 100 homes and burned about 13 square miles. Yarnell remained evacuated, but authorities hope to allow residents back in by Saturday.