The site where 19 Arizona firefighters died battling a wind-driven blaze will become a memorial park, reports The Associated Press.
The Arizona State Parks won a public auction Tuesday for the 320 acres near Yarnell where the Granite Mountain Hotshots were overrun by flames exactly two years ago. One crew member who was at another site serving as the lookout survived.
State Parks Director Sue Black was the sole bidder in the auction held at the Yavapai County Courthouse plaza. She held up her bidding card, which she turned from a “1” to a “19” when the auction began, agreeing to pay the fair market value of $304,000.
Family and friends of the Hotshots cheered and hugged one another when Black was declared the winner.
“The fact that it was uncontested shows the compassion of the community,” said Joe Woyjeck, a Los Angeles firefighter whose son Kevin was among the fallen firefighters.
The site will become the “Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial State Park,” a name recommended by the Hotshots’ family members and approved by the state parks board last week. Black said the date for the auction was chosen intentionally, in reverence for the men.
Several groups now will go to work on final designs, plans for public access to the site and work on construction and ongoing operating budgets. It’s not certain when the memorial park will open.
Ceremonies are planned later Tuesday at the courthouse plaza and in Yarnell with moments of silence and bell tolls to honor the men on the second anniversary of their deaths. The ceremonies won’t be as elaborate last year, and visual reminders of the men around town aren’t as apparent.
Some of the Hotshots’ families gathered for a picnic lunch following the auction and many planned to attend a private ceremony at the cemetery later Tuesday. They wore hats bearing the men’s names, T-shirts and pins with the Granite Mountain Hotshots emblem and ribbons pinned over their hearts.
About 30 of Jesse Steed’s family and friends woke up early Tuesday and hiked Granite Mountain outside Prescott where the Hotshots saved an alligator juniper tree from a wildfire. Most of the Hotshots’ families had mixed emotions.
Andrew Ashcraft’s mother, Deborah Pfingston, thought back to her son shoveling snow from the courthouse plaza while working as a Hotshot, longboarding in downtown Prescott and meeting his eventual wife at the nearby middle school. She’s part of the group that will design the memorial.
“You’re excited about what just happened, it’s the first memorial park in the state of Arizona,” she said. “Then you have to step back and say, why am I here?”