At midday, Prescott officials released the names of the victims, ranging in age from 21 to 43, including Billy Warneke, 25, whose wife is pregnant; Kevin Woyjeck, 21, who followed in his father’s footsteps to become a firefighter; and Andrew Ashcraft, 29, whose wife, Juliann, learned that he was dead while watching television with their children.
Prescott was in shock. Some of the firefighters’ vehicles remained parked near the fire station. Residents came and went all day, leaving tiny stuffed dogs, water bottles and American flags in groups of 19, along with the word “heroes” in large block letters, on a hastily assembled memorial along a fence.
Later Monday, more than 1,000 people gathered in the gymnasium of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University to remember the firefighters. Some wept as the names and ages of the dead were flashed on a screen. There was a standing ovation for the firefighters in attendance.
All the while, the 8,000-acre fire continued to burn 30 miles away in Yarnell. City fire officials said the blaze that caused the deadliest firefighting disaster in Arizona’s history was “zero percent contained.”
Each family of a victim is being assisted by a liaison “not only in their grief, but also in the process of moving on,” said Wade Ward, a fire department spokesman. Meanwhile, a task force of investigators arrived to determine what happened, hoping to release preliminary results in three days. A formal memorial service is expected Wednesday.
“Prescott is sad today, sir,” said Bonnie Winters, who works with the mother of one of the dead firefighters. “It’s really hard,” she said, her eyes filling with tears. “I was out and about today, and besides the weather being so gray, so are people’s hearts.”
President Obama said in a statement that the firefighters were “highly skilled professionals who, like so many across our country do every day, selflessly put themselves in harm’s way to protect the lives and property of fellow citizens they would never meet.”
Gov. Jan Brewer’s voice cracked several times as she praised the men at a news conference. “I said last night that my heart is breaking,” she said, adding, “I can’t imagine how the families who knew these individuals feel.”
Fire Chief Dan Fraijo expressed disbelief that 20 percent of his firefighters were gone, a loss that touched nearly every resident in a city of about 40,000. Grief counselors were dispatched to console and pray with any relative who requested it.