Hikers talk to and photograph the Granite Mountain 19 before the tragedy

Two residents of Yarnell, Arizona hiked into the area of the Yarnell Hill Fire and talked with and shot photos of the Granite Mountain Hotshots hours before the crew became entrapped and died. Joanna Dodder Nellans of the Daily Courier has the story of how Joy Collura and Sonny Gilligan began their hike at 4 a.m. on June 30 to get a closer look at the relatively small fire to see how close it was to their town. Later that morning they saw a lone firefighter tying flagging onto the brush as he made his way toward the fire. Here is an excerpt from the article, which has many of the photos they took.

…When they got closer and began talking, they were struck by the firefighter’s friendly, laid-back demeanor.

“He was really a gentleman,” Sonny said. “He didn’t seem to be really concerned with us being there, or the fire either.”

While some firefighters might have been more gruff when asking them to leave the area, the man said good morning and politely asked them if they’d be in the area long. Joy replied that they wanted to see if the fire was burning on the Yarnell side of the mountains. The man asked them for suggestions about the best way to continue up the mountain that was thick with overgrown vegetation between huge boulders. Sonny pointed to an old trail or fire line obscured by brush.

They didn’t know it at the time, but they were talking to Granite Mountain Hotshots Superintendent Eric Marsh, who would perish alongside 18 of his crewmembers later that afternoon when a storm system abruptly pushed the fire south in the opposite direction.

Joy asked Eric why he was placing pink ribbon on the bushes, and he said it would help his crew find the best way up the mountain.

Joy and Sonny saw Eric on the other side of the mountain about an hour later. He told them that pilots were planning to drop retardant soon, so they should leave for their own safety. He asked which way they were headed.

Joy took some photos of Eric and another hour later, they saw the rest of the crew hiking up the mountain so she shot some photos of them, too.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.