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Arizona firefighters young, dedicated, beloved

Jakob Schiller / Wired

Christopher MacKenzie (right) and members of the Granite Mountain Hotshot crew from Prescott, Arizona scout a piece of terrain before starting a burnout operation. MacKenzie along with 18 other Hotshots died Sunday while battling a wildfire north of Phoenix.

The 19 firefighters killed Sunday in an Arizona wildfire were young, brave family men.

Many followed in family footsteps when they decided to dedicate their lives to battling deadly blazes. And a number of those lost were in the beginning stages of starting their own families before they were trapped by a fast moving fire in central Arizona on Sunday.

They were a group known for being tough as nails, but with a lighter side that was needed to cope with the demands of the job.

But now, many leave behind wives and children who now understand all too well the sacrifices their loved ones made when they became firefighters. Here are their stories. 

NBC Chicago

Anthony Rose was preparing to become a father before his death.

Anthony Rose, 23
In just a few months, Anthony Rose would have been a father.

His fiancée, Tiffany Hettrick, was due in October, family members told NBC News. The couple lived in Arizona, and Hettrick had been accustomed to her husband-to-be's being gone doing what he loved.

“He always wanted to be a firefighter, and he was living what he wanted to do. He’s with God now, so he’s OK,” Hettrick's stepfather, Michael Mooney, told NBC News. “I don’t warm up to too many people too much, but he was a very good guy, and I knew that right away.” 

 

Sean Misner, 26
Like many firefighters, Sean Misner had the job in his blood.

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Sean Misner and his wife were expecting their first child this year.

The California native's uncle and grandfather were firefighters around Santa Barbara, Calif., according to the Santa Barbara Independent.

Misner had been married less than one year, and the couple were expecting their first child soon, the paper reports.

“The devastating loss of nineteen lives in the Arizona wildfire on June 30, 2013, has not only affected the fire service overall, but one of our own Montecito Fire families,” the Montecito Fire Protection District announced Monday. “We send our heartfelt condolences to all the families who lost loved ones in this tragedy."

Courtesy MacKenzie family

Christopher MacKenzie, 30, had always wanted to follow in his father's footsteps and become a firefighter.

Christopher MacKenzie, 30

The son of a firefighter, Christopher MacKenzie lived life to the fullest, friends say. He was an avid snowboarder who always wanted to follow in his father's footsteps.

He grew up in California's San Jacinto Valley and became a member of the town's fire department. He hurt his leg during the first week on the job and ended up in the hospital, only emerging more determined than ever to spend his life battling intense blazes, his mother said.

"I was very proud of him. Yeah, he was a good kid, and he's gonna be so missed," said Laurie Goralski, MacKenzie's mother. 

L.A. County Fire Dept.

Kevin Woyjeck, 21, hoped to one day join the Los Angeles County Fire Department.

Kevin Woyjeck, 21
Kevin Woyjeck's goal was to one day join the Los Angeles County Fire Department, just like his dad, Joe Woyjeck.

"We're a giant family. Any firefighter lost throughout the country is one of us. We're all a big family," Keith Mora, L.A. County fire inspector, told reporters.

The Southern California man began his short career as a member of the Fire Explorers, a mentorship program for young men and women who wanted to become firefighters, according to NBC Los Angeles.

"He was doing everything he could to become a professional firefighter -- he had an extreme work ethic," Mora told NBC Los Angeles. "He was a great, great kid. I say kid, but he was a young man at 21 years old."

Courtesy Ashcraft family

Andrew Ashcraft leaves behind four children, all younger than six.

Andrew Ashcraft, 29
Andrew Ashcraft leaves behind a wife and four children, none of whom is older than 6.

Friend Jeannie Brown remembered him as a "good husband, good, devoted family man." She knew Ashcraft through her husband and said the firefighter was always quick to help.

His wife, Juliann Ashcraft, told TODAY on Tuesday that her husband had a “contagious smile, a heart of gold.”

“He wanted to protect the community that he lived in and loved,” she said. “In our time of mourning we want people to know that they were heroes, that they are heroes.”

Carter County Sherriff

Dustin Deford was known for his work ethic, friends say.

Dustin Deford, 24
Dustin Deford is remembered as a work horse who would do anything to help a neighbor.

“This whole community knows him, not a lazy bone in his body,” Sheriff Neil Kittleman, who was Deford's boss at a hazardous fuel reduction program in Montana from 2007 to 2012, told NBC News.

“He’d help you do anything,” said Kittleman.

Deford, who was not married, comes from a large family, according to Kittleman. He father is pastor at a church in Ekalaka, Mont.

Jakob Schiller / Wired

Eric Marsh, 43, was the oldest Hotshot and a known leader for the group's younger members.

Eric Marsh, 43
Eric Marsh had been involved with firefighting since graduating from high school in Ashe County, N.C., according to the Jefferson Post.

Marsh went on to graduate from Appalachian State University, where he studied biology.

"He was a great son. He was compassionate and caring about his crew," John Marsh, Eric's father, told the newspaper.

Eric Marsh was married but had no children.

Courtesy Warneke family

Family members say William Warneke died doing what he loved.

William Warneke, 25
Like some of his Hotshot colleagues, Marine Corps veteran William Warneke was preparing to become a father, his grandmother Nancy Warneke told The Press-Enterprise newspaper in Riverside, Calif.

Warneke and his wife, Roxanne, were expecting their first child in December. The Hemet, Calif., native joined the Hotshot crew in April after four years in the military that included a tour in Iraq.

The couple had just purchased a property in Prescott near family.

Nancy Warneke told the newspaper that she called William's sister after seeing reports of the fire on the news.

“She said, ‘He’s gone. They’re all gone,’” she said. “Even though it’s a tragedy for the whole family, he was doing what he loved to do. He loved nature and was helping preserve nature.”

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Friends say Scott Norris always had a smile on his face.

Scott Norris, 28
Scott Norris seemed to always have a smile on his face, according to friends.

"He talked to random people and had a conversation with them," said 19-year-old Ryan O'Hara. "That's the type of guy he was, and honestly, it inspired me, in a way, to be like that."

Throughout Prescott, he was best known for his part-time job at Bucky O'Neill Guns.

"Here in Arizona the gun shops are a lot like barber shops. Sometimes you don't go in there to buy anything at all, you just go to talk," resident William O'Hara told the Associated Press. "I never heard a dirty word out of the guy. He was the kind of guy who if he dated your daughter, you'd be OK with it."

Travis Carter, 31
Travis Carter was a fitness buff whose strength was legendary at a local gym.

At Captain Crossfit gym, Carter gained a reputation for being the strongest of the Hotshots and also the nicest, friends told the Associated Press.

“No one could beat him. But the thing about him, was he would never brag about it. He would just kill everyone and then go and start helping someone else finish,” trainer Janine Pereira told the AP.

He made up demanding workouts, motivated fellow Hotshots to push themselves and gained notoriety for holding a plank (an exercise in which a person gets in a push-up position and holds himself up on toes and forearms) for 45 minutes, the AP reported. 

AP

This undated photo provided by the family shows John Joseph Percin, Jr.

John Percin, 24
John Percin was a high school athlete known for his laugh and penchant for fun, friends told The Oregonian newspaper.

The 24-year-old was a 2007 graduate of West Linn High School, about 20 miles south of Portland, Ore., the paper reports. He grew up playing baseball.

"It's a tough day for us today," Percin's father, John Percin Sr., told The Oregonian. "We don't know a lot of things yet."

KPNX

Robert Caldwell was known for having the mental stamina to match his physical endurance.

Robert Caldwell, 23
When it came to fighting flames, Robert Caldwell was a natural, friends say. He not only possessed the physical stamina for the grueling work but also had the smarts.

"He was one of the smart guys in the crew who could get the weather, figure out the mathematics. It was just natural for him," Chase Madrid, who worked as a Hotshot in the two prior years, told the Associated Press.

Caldwell's understanding of the science behind raging fires helped him get appointed as a squad boss.

Jakob Schiller / Wired

Friends say Travis Turbyville, 27, was beloved by his two daughters.

Travis Turbyfill, 27
Known as "Turby" to his squad, Travis Turbyfill got his job with the Hotshots when another member's girlfriend asked him to quit.

Like many of the 18 other firefighters who perished Sunday, Turbyfill frequented the Captain Crossfit gym near the Hotshot headquarters. Trainer Tony Burris said the firefighter would often come in with his two daughters.

"Because he's this big, huge Marine, Hotshot guy, and he has two little girls, reddish, blonde curly hair, and they just loved their dad," he told the Associated Press.

KPNX

Wade Parker, 22, was an athlete and second-generation fire fighter.

Wade Parker, 22
Wade Parker had always wanted to be a second-generation firefighter, according to family friends. Parker's father works for the nearby Chino Valley Fire Department, family friend Jeff Knotek told the Associated Press.

Knotek called Parker, a "big, athletic kid who loved it, aggressive, assertive and in great shape."

"It's just a shame to see this happen," he said.

The Daily Courier, Prescott AZ

Family members say Grant McKee, 21, was training to become and emergency medical technician.

Grant McKee, 21
A giving young man who whose mother told the AP he was in training to be an emergency medical technician, McKee would regularly request extra emergency room shifts.

“I had four grandchildren, but Grant was the sweetest most giving nature of any of my grandkids,” his grandmother Mary Hoffman told the AP. “We used to think he was a little angel.”’

McKee’s cousin, Robert Caldwell, was also among those killed on Sunday.

KPNX

Jesse Steed was known for making his co-workers laugh.

Jesse Steed, 36
Among the older members of the Hotshots crew, Steed was remembered for his ability to always make his coworkers laugh – but he couldn’t have been more serious about doing his job right.

Steed’s brother Cassidy Steed spoke of his brother’s commitment to helping other in a statement released on Monday, according to Seattle’s KOMO News.

“Jesse has always put his life on the line for people who he knew he would never meet. He sacrificed time with his family and his own personal interests. Jesse loved his job very much as his family supported him with every sacrifice he made for it,” Cassidy Steed said in the statement.

“All of Jesse’s crew also gave the ultimate sacrifice. Now there are 19 families who are as grief-stricken and numb from their recent loss as I am,” he said.

KPNX

Clayton Whitted

Clayton Whitted, 28
A high school football player whose coach recalled him as a “wonderful kid,” Whitted never shirked a challenge.

“He was a smart young man with a great personality, just a wonderful personality,” remembered Lou Beneitone, who coached Whitted at Prescott High School.

“When he walked into a room, he could really light it up,” he said.

Garrett Zuppiger's blog

Garrett Zuppiger pictured here with his mother.

Garret Zuppiger, 27
Zuppiger was “always, always willing to lend a helping hand,” former neighbor Frank Morrison told The Arizona Republic. “He would give you the shirt of his back.”

The man who wrote “Everyday is like a gift!” on a blog he maintained also had a passion for a good beer and the ginger-hued facial hair he cultivated, according to the AP.

“We both had a red beard and so we would always admire each other’s beards,” friend Tony Burris told the AP.

Joe Thurston, 32

A caring Utah native with a “daredevil” streak, Thurston “was never one to shy away from a challenge or new experience,” former classmate E.J. Overson told the Salt Lake Tribune.

Courtesy Thurston family

Joe Thurston was a daredevil with a penchant for service.

“He had all the qualities that a firefighter would need to possess,” Overson told the paper. “He was service-oriented, very caring and willing to do some things that many others would say, ‘I don’t want to get involved.’”

A determined man who balanced his fearless time battling flames with skateboarding and drumming in a band, friends remembered when Thurston snuck a key to a school swimming pool.

“He was able to touch a lot of lives,” Overson said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Juliann Ashcraft's husband, Andrew, was one of the 19 firefighters killed in Arizona on Sunday. She says her husband and his fellow firefighters "loved what they did" and shares how she and her four children are coping with the loss.

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