Four years ago her best friend and husband was killed on a wildfire near Yarnell, Arizona along with 18 other firefighters ranging in age from 21 to 36. In the years since June 30, 2013 she has experienced what every spouse dreads or does not want to think about — losing your partner in life. Below, Amanda Marsh reveals what she went through and what she found on the other side, including a way to help others who find themselves in a similar dark place.
By Amanda Marsh
Adaptation has become the word that best describes my life post Yarnell Hill Fire. I woke the morning of June 30th, 2013 with a mind to do my regular Sunday chores. Feed horses and dogs, clean up the house and work a little with a client’s horse in the afternoon. When I lay my head down that night in my best friend’s bed, my life had been completely shattered. Every time I tried to close my eyes all I could see were 19 bodies on the hill and one of them belonged to my husband. The body I knew so well. My best friend’s Saint Bernard kept putting his huge nose in my face until I finally got out of bed and walked onto the back porch.
My parents were trying to get to Prescott from southern California but had been rerouted all the way through Phoenix because of the fire. I sat on the porch and started calling every number in my phone, but everyone was asleep. It was midnight and their lives weren’t shattered like mine. Their husband’s body wasn’t lying on Yarnell Hill with the life ravaged out of it.
I sat with my knees pulled up to my chin and I cried and I cried and I cried. Was this possibly real? Was I having a very bad dream I would wake from soon? I looked out over the darkness of Prescott and I wondered how in the world I would ever get through losing so many amazing souls. How could Jesse be gone and Clay? How could Travy and Turby be dead? These were the men who fueled many of Eric’s stories about his fire life. These were the men I knew would be there in a heartbeat if they could, how could they be gone? I was 38 years old, and in the blink of an eye, the change of the wind, I had become the eldest widow of the Granite Mountain Hotshots.
Of course, I didn’t realize it then, but that night was the start of the Eric Marsh Foundation for Wildland Firefighters. That night and the horrid days and nights that followed. My painful experiences, burying my husband, the funerals of our friends, wanting to die, fighting to stay sober, the anger that swept through me and never left, pushing everyone away, fighting to stay in control of my life, fighting, fighting, fighting. These experiences pulled me in the direction of wanting to be of service to others who were going through the same thing. I needed to help others in the wildland community and I needed to do it in my husband’s name.
I wanted to create a legacy of giving in Eric’s name because that is who he was in life. Our shared sober life meant that both of us had done things in our pasts we were not proud of and one of the ways Eric chose to make those wrongs right was to give people a chance to prove themselves on the crew. He gave jobs to people others would never have even considered. Eric had been given a second and third chance in his fire life and he needed to pay that forward, and he did, often. I was their advocate, pulling for the underdogs through the fire season. Losing that way of life hit me so hard and I needed to create something good, I needed something amazing in my life or I was not going to be able to hold on. I needed something to work on, I needed to watch something grow out of the ash. I needed to turn my pain, my empathy and compassion and my experiences into something positive to help others.
The Eric Marsh Foundation for Wildland Firefighters came into fruition and I began raising money to donate to next of kin of wildland firefighters killed in the line of duty. One of the first next of kin we helped was Colleen Ricks. Her husband Brandon was a helicopter pilot who perished on a prescribed fire when his helicopter went down in 2015. I didn’t have Colleen’s contact information and so I called the church where Brandon’s services were just held and spoke to the pastor. He gave me Colleen’s number. I dialed the number, expecting to leave a message but a woman answered. Her voice was heavy and sad, I knew it must be her. I began to cry. Through my tears I told her who I was and why I was calling and we stayed on the phone for a long time, both of us crying for each other, ourselves and for Brandon and Eric. To this day Colleen is one of my best friends. We understand each other in ways only widows can.
Our mission is simple: To assist next-of-kin of wildland firefighters killed in the line of duty and wildland firefighters with PTSD.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder has been a long standing companion in my life. From my first tragic loss in 1983 when my best friends were brutally murdered to my loss in the Yarnell Hill Fire, PTSD has never left my side. I have had to adapt to its presence and get help to overcome the sometimes debilitating effects of its uninvited companionship. I have a heart for others living with PTSD and for the families who surround these individuals. The Eric Marsh Foundation for Wildland Firefighters has been able to help wildland firefighters with PTSD by paying for their treatment and also by utilizing my history to lend emotional support to individuals who need it, both family of and wildland firefighters themselves. My 11 years of sobriety has also helped wildland firefighters struggling with drug and alcohol problems. I want to be of service and I want my experiences to give strength and hope to others. What good is any of it if it is only helpful to me?
We believe there is so much need in the wildland community that there is room for us all to help each other and to give to each other. Our foundation supports having many organizations that support and administer to the wildland community, the more the better. We are always looking for volunteers to help us at events and for those wishing to have events for us.
The Eric Marsh Foundation for Wildland Firefighters comes from the heart of Prescott, from the home base of the Granite Mountain Hotshots. The place Eric and I met and fell in love, where my recovery and my life began. Where I buried my husband and my friends, where my community of firefighters, police officers and all other first responders have picked me up time and time again. Prescott is our home and we are proud to continue to serve our community and to grow outward from here. Prescott is our home base and our foundation is important to the greater community of Prescott. The Yarnell Hill Fire became a world event, but the Eric Marsh Foundation has grown here in this community which his given so much. This community lost the guys, too. They felt the deep impact of the loss and they cried with us. We matter to our community and to the wildland community.
Although we call ourselves the Eric Marsh Foundation, we respect all the fallen Granite Mountain Hotshots because they were all amazing men and deserve recognition for their lives and for their ultimate sacrifice. We are united behind all wildland firefighters, first responders and all their families. We have chosen to use the Granite Mountain Hotshot logo to reflect this respect and this love that our foundation has for the entire Granite Mountain Hotshot crew and all wildland firefighters.
If you need us, we are here. We love our wildland community and we are staying strong to be of service in the best possible way. We understand what you are going through and we are here for you and for your families. Please visit our website: Ericmarshfoundation.org and follow us on Facebook at Eric Marsh Foundation for Wildland Firefighters.
The Granite Mountain Hotshots live on in our hearts forever, they taught me so much, and they always guide my path as I make decisions that continue to honor them and their values. Esse Quam Videri– To be, rather than to seem. For them, with them, love them, we will honor them forever.
Andrew Ashcraft – Age: 29
Robert Caldwell – Age: 23
Travis Carter – Age: 31
Dustin Deford – Age: 24
Christopher MacKenzie – Age: 30
Eric Marsh – Age: 43
Grant McKee – Age: 21
Sean Misner – Age: 26
Scott Norris – Age: 28
Wade Parker – Age: 22
John Percin- Age: 24
Anthony Rose- Age: 23
Jesse Steed- Age: 36
Joe Thurston- Age: 32
Travis Turbyfill – Age: 27
William Warneke – Age: 25
Clayton Whitted – Age: 28
Kevin Woyjeck – Age: 21
Garret Zuppiger – Age: 27