PRESCOTT, Ariz. -- T.J. Ashcraft looked up to his little brother Andrew.
“We always kind of pushed each other in good ways,” the U.S. Army sergeant, 32, told the Los Angeles Times on Monday. “He went the firefighter route and I went the military route.
"He was the kind of little brother that anyone would look up to," Ashcraft said. "He just always was infatuated with fire ... always enjoyed fire and wanted to help with putting it out."
Andrew Ashcraft, 29, a father of four, was among the 19 members of an elite wildland firefighting unit who were killed in a fast-moving blaze near Yarnell, Ariz., officials said Monday.
It was the worst such loss of firefighter life in the U.S. since 1933.
Officials released the names of the dead Monday afternoon: Andrew Ashcraft, 29; Robert Caldwell, 23; Travis Carter, 31; Dustin Deford, 24; Christopher MacKenzie, 30; Eric Marsh, 43; Grant McKee, 21; Sean Misner, 26; Scott Norris, 28; Wade Parker, 22; John Percin, 24; Anthony Rose, 23; Jesse Steed, 36; Joe Thurston, 32; Travis Turbyfill, 27; William Warneke, 25; Clayton Whitted, 28; Kevin Woyjeck, 21; and Garret Zuppiger, 27.
Some of the men had marriages on the horizon, others had only recently tied the knot. And there were fathers, or soon-to-be fathers.
As the grieving began, portraits began to emerge of a group of men who loved their jobs, and their families.
“All I can say is he was a really great guy, a really great father,” T.J. Ashcraft said in a phone interview.
He said he was returning to Arizona from Kentucky, where he is stationed, and asked that all who know the families to “keep praying for comfort in this hard time.”
The family has set up a fund, he said, for donors to help provide support for Andrew Ashcraft's widow and four children.
Glendale resident Phyllis Barney said she and her family had known Anthony Rose since he was 16, when he moved to the small community of Crown King, southeast of Prescott.
Rose, 23, began working for the Crown King Fire Department when he was 18, as he was earning his GED online, fire chief Steve Lombardo told The Times.
Rose was a “fantastic person, and a great worker,” Lombardo said, a perfect fit for the rigors of the Granite Mountain Hotshots Crew.
“It’s tragic, absolutely tragic,” he said.
Barney said Rose and his fiancee were expecting their first child.
Ronda Ehlert, 43, was Wade Parker’s youth pastor at Chino Valley’s Word of Life Church, about 30 miles north of Prescott.
She recalled him as “a rambunctious little boy, always moving.
"Later, he grew into a teenager who loved getting into boy things: hunting, dirt biking, camping,” said Ehlert. Parker also “helped lead the Chino Valley High School baseball team to state championships two years in a row.”
Those who knew him pointed out that one of his greatest loves was “worship music,” particularly the Christian rock group Third Day.
Ehlert said Parker’s father got the call that his son was missing at 4:30 p.m. Sunday. She said she learned from Parker’s mother, Michelle, at 7:30 p.m. Sunday that “Wade was gone.”
Ehlert said Parker had one younger brother and two older sisters, and described the family as “extremely tightly knit,”
“Firefighting was his passion. You’d never hear him complain about it,” she said. “Those guys knew they were the best, and they were proud of it.”
Hailey Barnes, 19, was a lifelong friend. Trying not to cry, she said: “Wade was a bright young man with a cheery smile. He always made you feel better. When you were having a bad day he always said, ‘You’ll be fine. Hang in there.’”
Parker’s 14-year-old cousin, Hailey McMains, viewed him as a big brother. “After church, we would find a place to sit and talk about life,” she said. Parker would ask her: “Anything we need to pray for, Hailey?” she said. “If I was having a bad week, we’d pray about that.”
Hailey said Parker and his high school sweetheart planned to marry in October. They had been together for six years, she said.
Kevin Woyjeck, 21, of Seal Beach was following in the footsteps of his father, Los Angeles County Fire Capt. Joe Woyjeck, said L.A. County Fire Dept. Inspector Keith Mora.
He started as an Explorer, an L.A. County Fire Department mentorship and training program, and was a paramedic in Los Angeles and Orange counties. He eventually hoped to work side by side with his father, who has been a county fire captain for nearly 30 years, Mora said.
Mora described Woyjeck as a hardworking young man with a great personality and sense of humor. Woyjeck was from Seal Beach, where his family still lives.
”This young man was working with us trying to become like his father,” he said. “For something like this to happen is just a tragedy.”
Sahagun reported from Prescott, Ariz., and Kelly and Khouri from Los Angeles. Times staff writers Ruben Vives and Samantha Schaefer contributed to this report.
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