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Yarnell Hill fire will not burn Arizonans’ resolve

Chances are you remember exactly where you were in 2001 when breaking news on radio and television revealed the first reports of a plane flying into the World Trade Center in New York City; the horrific terrorist attack later called 9-11.

Fear, anger, shock, and a barrelful of other emotions poured out of American’s hearts and souls amid the visual images and sounds of the attacks.

As this is article is penned (July 2), Arizonans are sharing a similar loss with the Yarnell Hill fire which continues to burn near the small area known as Yarnell. Just days ago, 19 expert firefighters, members of the Granite Mountain Hotshot crew - one-third of Prescott, Ariz.’s firefighter force, were killed in the horrific flame and heat inferno.

Flat out, Arizonans are in a state of mental shock and despair, including this Phoenix-based journalist. I first heard about a small fire near Yarnell last Saturday. Then things became ugly as the winds turned, increased, and surrounded the firefighters in an inescapable circle of fire and heat.

The headline on Monday’s The Arizona Republic newspaper simply read, “Tragedy.” The next day’s headline (today’s) stated, “We Mourn.” These three simple words spoke volumes.

Yarnell is a rural area located about 35 miles southwest of Prescott. Prescott is perched atop a mountain at about 5,300 feet above sea level. The Prescott area sits in the largest Ponderosa pine forest in the world.

The Prescott area is a common weekend retreat for Phoenix-area residents, including this Phoenician, who want to escape the extreme summer heat in the low desert to relax in the pine forests overshadowing snow melt-fed lakes.

Most Phoenicians don’t normally drive through Yarnell to get back to Phoenix since the route is an hour or so drive out-of-the-way. From Prescott to Yarnell, Highway 89 wraps around like a snake as the asphalt decline slides riders to the desert floor.

I have driven the route twice and remember a large dairy operation near the foot of the valley. My prayers include the livestock operation and the safety of the employees and cows amid the smoke-choked air.

Arizonan is an extreme place to live, driven by excessive heat and 15 consecutive years of drought. Despite the challenges, it is a playground where one can swim in a lake in the low desert, snow ski at higher elevations, and visit the surreal Grand Canyon, all within a five-hour drive.

Forest fires will continue to plague the nation’s 48thstate, in part tied to environmental groups which curtail logging companies from cleaning up fire-damaged forests. Instead, damaged tree debris just sits, awaiting the next human- or weather-caused event to fire up an even larger blaze.

The weeks and months ahead will be a tough haul for Arizonans. Yet we have tough skin and a strong resolve.

God bless the USA; God bless Arizona; and God bless our firefighters.