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In Arizona fire's aftermath, Prescott is 'turning into a memorial'

PRESCOTT, Ariz. -- The week of Independence Day has always been a boon for Prescott’s tourism industry, and a seven-day display of patriotism, regional pride and Western traditions features the world’s oldest commercial rodeo and a parade that draws more than 10,000 celebrants.

But this year, five days after 19 members of the Granite Mountain Interagency Hotshot Crew were killed in the Yarnell Hill fire, “the entire city is also turning into a memorial,” Prescott City Councilman Chris Kuknyo said.

“You see it in the purple ribbons people are wearing, in donation drives, in flags at half mast and in the hundreds of flower bouquets and cards left in the young men’s honor at hotshot Station 7,” he told the Los Angeles Times. “You see it in the signs that say, ‘Prescott salutes our fallen heroes.’ ”

In the city's downtown clutch of Old West-style storefronts called Whiskey Row, a jewelry store called the Artful Eye sold more than 100 sterling silver pendants Friday, with 100% of the proceeds going to families of the 19 fallen firefighters. The pendants were engraved with the words: “Granite Mountain Hotshots. Heroes remembered. 6-30-13.”

“We’re used to wildfires. We’re not used to losing guys,” Kuknyo said. “To lose 19 young men has placed a blanket of grief over this city and the entire state.”

Mark Shelley, a sociology professor at Prescott’s Yavapai College, echoed that theme.

“Some places have hurricanes or tsunamis. California has earthquakes. But the national disaster of choice in the highlands of Arizona is large fires,” he said. “The people who live in the Arizona desert are pretty hardy and resilient in a place where a rhythm of life revolves around the fire season.”

By Friday, more than $800,000 in donations for the 19 families had been given to three firefighter-endorsed organizations: the 100 Club of Arizona, the Wildland Firefighter Foundation and United Phoenix Firefighters.

The Yavapai College Foundation has created a scholarship fund for the children and spouses of the 19. Two-year scholarships are to be available to the family members for enrolling in Yavapai College, or the equivalent amount will be portable to any college they choose.

On Sunday, the remains of the 19 are to be escorted with a full Honor Guard from Phoenix to the Yavapai County medical examiner’s office in Prescott.

A memorial service for the firefighters is to be held Tuesday at the Tim’s Toyota Center arena in nearby Prescott Valley.

“As a sociologist, I tend to be skeptical about human nature,” Shelley said. “But this spirit of cooperation and outpouring of assistance renews one’s faith in humanity. I believe it will have long-lasting aftereffects in our community.”


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