PRESCOTT, Ariz. -- When Travis “Turby” Turbyfill was in kindergarten and they asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up, he drew a boxy fire truck that resembled a hotshot buggy and wrote, “I want to be a fireman. I want to firefight the fire.”
His adoptive mother, Colleen Turbyfill, saved the drawing, along with the blue-striped Oxford shirt he was wearing the first time she saw him, birthday cards and prom photos she shared with The Times as she sat in the living room of her suburban home Thursday, purple ribbons fluttering outside, the official color of fallen firefighters.
Turbyfill, 54, an auditor for a state workers' compensation program, said her son grew into a rambunctious teenager who tested his parents’ patience, conspiring with friends to smuggle in blow-up dolls as prom dates and kidnap a local Ronald McDonald statue.
By the time he graduated from Prescott High School, served a year in the Marines in California and returned to attend the fire academy, his fate as the Granite Mountain hotshots' joker was sealed.
He joined the hotshots in 2010, was recently hired by the Prescott Fire Department and was supposed to start next year -- a safer job, he figured, for a married man with two kids.
He was funny, and enormous -- 6-foot-4 inches with a chest so broad, his grandmother said that hugging him was like embracing a refrigerator.
He could also be gentle with his wife, Stephanie, and daughters Brooklyn, 2, and Brynley, 1.
Turbyfill, an outgoing blond, said her son’s hotshot crew members “picked on each other constantly” but in fun.
She said she generally didn’t worry about Travis being a firefighter -- her father was, and so is her best friend’s husband -- but she worried after he was out fighting the recent Doce fire nearby.
So last Thursday evening, when she stopped by to see Stephanie and her granddaughters and her son happened to be there, she took the opportunity to tell him how nervous she had been.
“When you’re in New Mexico, it doesn’t feel real, but this is too close to home,” she said.
She said her son reassured her.
“He said, 'It’s OK, we’re the best crew. I’m always safe, and I know what I’m doing,'" she said.
That was the last time she saw him.
She said she had thought her son was off the morning of the Yarnell Hill fire, but figured the crew would head out there: “They were always the first responders, they were the crew who had the muscle, the meat, the brawn.”
Shortly after 7 p.m. Sunday evening, her cellphone buzzed with a news alert: Some firefighters were trapped.
She texted Stephanie at 7:25 p.m., “Do you know where Travis is?”
Stephanie replied: “Yarnell. Haven’t heard from him all day :/”
Colleen wrote back: “Heard there is a crew trapped. Surrounded by fire. They were ok but no way out. Worried sick. If you hear anything please let me know.