Andrew Ashcraft, 29
Andrew Ashcraft loved working as a Hotshot, but he struggled with having to spend so much time away from his wife and four children, ages 1, 2, 4 and 6. It was his third season on the team, and after being named the Granite Mountain Hotshots rookie of the year in 2011, he was in a leadership position.
“There is this constant tug and pull of loving his family and loving what he does,” said his wife, Juliann.
When Mr. Ashcraft was away fighting fires, he would text his wife, asking her about the family’s trip to the swimming pool that day, and always telling them he loved them. And when he was home, he devoted himself completely to his children, attending his son Ryder’s T-ball games and joking around the house.
Ms. Ashcraft said she and her husband played an ongoing game of trying to lock each other out of their home. When she would lock him out, he had to do a dance for her before she would let him back inside. “His go-to dance was spelling his name with his butt in the air,” she said. “He was a jokester. He just made everything fun.”
On Saturday evening, he returned home from two weeks fighting another fire, arriving just in time to tuck the children into bed. The next morning at 5:20, he kissed his wife goodbye and headed back to the station.
“He wanted to finish out this season strong, and then think about when he might change to a profession that’s a little more family-friendly,” Ms. Ashcraft said.
Robert Caldwell, 23
For Robert Caldwell, this was the best time of the year. It combined the things he loved most — fighting wildfires and Prescott’s annual rodeo. He would don his wranglers and cowboy hat and soak up every bit of the rodeo, especially the dances, said his older sister, Taylor Caldwell. But nothing compared to firefighting.
He had been doing it for about three years. Meticulous and smart, he was promoted to squad boss this season. It was grueling work, 16-hour days in torturous conditions, but when he spoke of it, “it was like a love affair,” said Thomas Holst, his best friend growing up.
Part of it was the brotherhood. Mr. Caldwell had grown up with many of the men on his team, and this season, his younger cousin, Grant McKee, had joined. He also died in the fire.
“If Robert was going to die, at least it was with his brothers, 18 of his brothers,” Ms. Caldwell said.
Mr. Caldwell was born in Pennsylvania but moved to Prescott with his family as a toddler. An avid outdoorsman, he loved the rugged terrain and being in it as often as he could.
Last November, he married after a whirlwind romance. His wife, Claire, had a 5-year-old son, Zion, with whom Mr. Caldwell fell in love. He wanted more children. His hope, he had told Mr. Holst, was for Ms. Caldwell to get pregnant in January so she would have the baby in the off season, when there were no fires.
“He left nothing to chance,” Mr. Holst said.
Travis Carter, 31
Four days before he died, Travis Carter stopped by the gym to say hello to his trainer and discuss what had been a tough few weeks. He and his crew had been fighting a blaze northwest of Prescott and had not been able to return home to spend the nights with their families, Mr. Carter told his trainer and gym buddy, Tony Burris.
Family was everything to Mr. Carter. Local news reports quoted his wife, Krista, as saying that he loved his two children, 6 and 3 years old, “more than anything.”
“That’s what he lived for,” she said. “Seeing them happy and having family time.”
As one of the older members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, Mr. Carter often assumed a leadership role, Mr. Burris said — one visible in how he carried himself on and off the job.
“He was kind of their fearless leader,” Mr. Burris said. “He was always carrying the biggest chainsaws. He was always out in front of the pack.”
Dustin DeFord, 24
Dustin DeFord had an easy smile and an uncanny ability to make people laugh, said his mother, Celeste. Growing up in the tiny town of Ekalaka, Mont., he would sometimes dress up in a full-body gorilla suit and lurch around town late at night, startling tipplers as they headed home from the taverns.
But his Christian faith was his foundation and his lodestar, his mother said. On his Twitter account, he said he was living “by the grace of God, not sure where I am going in life, but desiring to follow God in each stage.”
The son of a Baptist pastor, Mr. DeFord had long wanted to serve, and he found a way to do so in firefighting. He was the fifth of 10 children, and many of his older brothers have worked as volunteer firefighters or battled wilderness blazes. He joined the Granite Mountain Hotshots in 2012, but before landing the job, he asked friends on Twitter to pray for him as he interviewed with the team’s leaders.
Recently, during a lull in firefighting, Mr. DeFord told his mother that he had talked about grace and Christianity with some of the other Hotshots. Not everyone on the team was religious, but Ms. DeFord said it had been an important moment for her son.
“That was our last conversation,” she said.
Christopher MacKenzie, 30
Christopher MacKenzie liked being a firefighter because it gave him the opportunity to travel the country.
“His friend was telling me yesterday that Chris was just so anxious for fire season to start,” his mother, Laurie Goralski, said as she cried. “He considered this job, which he loved, as a way for him to see the United States.”
Mr. MacKenzie, who grew up in Hemet, Calif., had traveled to Oregon, Washington, Montana and Texas, among other states.
His mother remembered him as an outgoing person who made friends easily and enjoyed snowboarding.
“He lived the life he wanted to live,” she said. “He went where he wanted to go. He was a free spirit.”
Mr. MacKenzie began working for the United States Forest Service in California in 2004. Several of his friends had applied because they were looking for jobs, but Ms. Goralski said her son stood out because he never gave up. Mr. MacKenzie's father had worked as a firefighter for 25 years, and they had the same commitment to the job.
“When you’re in a situation that is hard, you don’t quit, because what you’re doing is important,” Ms. Goralski said. “It took a lot of determination and integrity to put up with everything they did.”
Eric Marsh, 43
Eric Marsh was the supervisor of the Granite Mountain Hotshots and the oldest of the men. He had worked as a firefighter “on and off for 20 years,” his father, John Marsh, said.
Mr. Marsh joined the Hotshots nine years ago and helped turn it into the ambitious group it became. He wanted the crew to be certified to travel anywhere in the country when they were needed.
Raised in North Carolina, Mr. Marsh was initially interested in becoming a firefighter because he liked working in nature. Over the years, he grew to love it.
“He liked the outdoors, and that's an outdoor job,” his father said.
In a video interview with a local newspaper in 2010, Mr. Marsh talked about the team's preparation as footage played of the firefighters hiking in heavy gear.
“We do lots of different types of training — physical training where we run, we hike, and other sorts of aerobic activity,” he said. “That gets us in shape for hiking the hills, basically.”
Grant McKee, 21
Grant McKee was going to spend just one fire season on the Granite Mountain Hotshots crew. His cousin, Robert Caldwell, had been doing it for a while, and the two of them were close, more like brothers than cousins. Mr. McKee looked up to Mr. Caldwell, who was two years older. They loved camping and fishing together, and Grant wanted to follow him into firefighting.
But Mr. McKee's dream was not to fight blazes in the wilderness. He wanted to be a paramedic in the local fire department. And he had another dream: to marry his fiancée, Leah Fine, and raise a family in Prescott. They had planned to marry this summer but decided to wait until their careers were on track.
“All he wanted was a home and a family,” said his aunt, Laurie McKee.
Mr. McKee grew up in Southern California. Wiry and strong, he made his high school’s varsity wrestling team as a freshman.
“He was a tough kid,” said his grandmother, Mary Hoffmann. “But he was also the kindest person I ever met” — so kind, she recalled, that he would give away his toys to any friends who admired them. He moved to Prescott his senior year of high school to live with his aunt and, like Mr. Caldwell, fell in love with the mountains.
“He never wanted to leave,” Ms. McKee said.
Both cousins died in the fire.
Sean Misner, 26
Sean Misner grew up in the rolling wine country north of Santa Barbara, Calif., a quiet, hard-nosed high school football player who made up for his lack of size with a fearlessness noted by teammates and opponents alike.
Life seemed simple enough for boys in Santa Ynez, said Mr. Misner’s close friend, Jason Lambert. The two of them would play catch at night in the parking lot of an Albertsons supermarket, the only place in town that was lit, and Mr. Misner would tell Mr. Lambert how he planned to become a firefighter one day, like his grandfather and uncle before him.
“This was his lineage, the pedigree he came from,” Mr. Lambert said. “His favorite movie was ‘Backdraft.’ ”
When Mr. Misner’s knees got banged up from football, dashing his hopes of college sports stardom, he decided to start training to become a Hotshot. Eventually, he moved to Arizona and was selected to join the Prescott-based crew — the most exciting thing in the world for him aside from his wife and unborn child, Mr. Lambert said. With the season bearing down, he would tell Mr. Lambert over the phone that he couldn’t wait to fight his first fire.
On Sunday night, Mr. Misner’s brother-in-law called Mr. Lambert. “I dropped the phone and started crying. It was basically like my brother had died,” he said. “I keep expecting his white truck to come down the driveway.”
Scott Norris, 28
Scott Norris did not need much to get by. A few years ago, he joined a hotshot crew in Payson, about two hours east of Prescott, and crashed in his truck during days off. He continued to live in Prescott, and this season he joined the Granite Mountain Hotshots.
“He was one of those guys who was just really laid back, easygoing,” said Austin Carmen, a former member of the Prescott crew. “He didn’t mind not settling down.” Mr. Carmen also knew Mr. Norris from around town as someone who “got along with everybody.”
About six months ago, during his off-season as a firefighter, Mr. Norris walked into Bucky O’Neill Guns on a very busy day. Before he left, he found himself acting as a de facto staff member, helping other customers.
“We told him he had to stay until further notice,” said Jim Marnell, a co-owner of the gun store. “He was knowledgeable, friendly, personable.”
Mr. Norris had long been a customer; he was a gun enthusiast and used to go to the shooting range. After that day, he continued to work at the gun shop, a job Mr. Marnell said he enjoyed.
Mr. Marnell called him an “exceptional young man” who would be missed, both in the store and in the town. The store’s doors were locked the day after the fire, partly in his honor and partly because no one felt up to opening. But customers still came by to offer their condolences.
“Customers loved him,” Mr. Marnell said.
Wade Parker, 22
Wade Parker was only as tall as his father’s waist when he started talking about following in his footsteps as a firefighter.
“He was my dad’s prodigy,” his older sister, Carrie Morena, said. “Pretty much anything my dad did, he wanted to do.”
That included hunting (the head of a stag he killed with a bow and arrow hangs in the family’s living room) and fishing, as well as firefighting. A talented athlete, he played baseball for a year at Lamar Community College in Colorado before returning home to Arizona to become a firefighter.
Mr. Parker joined the Granite Mountain Hotshots in 2012. Last June, during a two-day break between fires, he drove through the night to get to Disneyland with his girlfriend, Alicia Owens, whom he had dated since he was only 15. As the fireworks went off at the end of the night, he got down on his knee. They planned to marry in October.
“He loved his job,” Ms. Owens said. “We wanted to stay here and keep doing what we were doing.”
John Percin Jr., 24
John Percin Jr. loved hiking, basketball and especially his family, which included his English Lab, Champ.
“John’s honesty and loyalty guided him every step of the way,” his family wrote in a statement released this week.
They recalled his smile, his kindness, how proud they are of him.
“He was probably the strongest and bravest young man I have ever met in my life,” his aunt, Donna Percin Pederson, told The Associated Press.
Mr. Percin was a multisport high school athlete who graduated in 2007 from West Linn High School, southeast of Portland, Ore., The Associated Press reported.
“His passion for life was deep, and he approached every day with optimism and excitement,” the family statement said. “John was truly at peace when he was out enjoying the beauty of life."
Anthony Rose, 23
Anthony Rose, one of the younger members of the crew, was expecting his first child.
His fiancée, Tiffany Hettrick, is seven and a half months pregnant. On their shared Facebook page, the profile picture shows the couple kissing next to a sign saying, “It's a... girl.”
Mr. Rose was from Illinois, and Ms. Hettrick is from Wisconsin. The pair met through Ms. Hettrick’s brother, and she moved to Arizona to be with him.
“He was a very good guy,” Ms. Hettrick's stepfather, Michael Mooney, said. “I liked him from the get-go.”
Before joining the Hotshots, Mr. Rose worked for the fire department in Crown King, Ariz., not far from Prescott. “Since he joined our volunteer fire department, he just excelled,” said Greg Flores, who worked there with him. “His smile lit up the whole room.”
Jesse Steed, 36
Jesse Steed was the captain of the Granite Mountain Hotshots and its longest-serving member, having traded a job as a Prescott firefighter to battle flames in the wilderness he so loved. He used to ride his mountain bike through rugged trails just for the thrill of it, said his older brother Cassidy, a police officer in Renton, Wash. He was also a jokester — he liked to make faces and talk with funny voices to make people laugh.
His true passion, though, was fighting fires, and helping others was his calling. He served in the Marine Corps for four years before becoming a firefighter, and he joined the Granite Mountain Hotshots just as the team was established in 2002.
“Jesse always put his life on the line for people who he knew he would never meet,” his brother said.
Mr. Steed played on his high school soccer team and was also a skilled horseshoe player. Once, he beat the mayor of Prescott in a charity tournament organized by the fire department to raise money for a local food pantry.
Above all, Mr. Steed was a family man, his brother said. He leaves his wife, Desiree, and two children — a son, Caden, who is 4, and a daughter, Cambria, who is 3.
Joe Thurston, 32
Joe Thurston was the perfect combination of risk taker and grounded family man, said his childhood friend E. Jay Overson. Even as a young man growing up in Cedar City, Utah, he and his friends thrilled at diving on cliffs in the nearby Quail Creek Reservoir. “He didn’t shy away from things other people might think twice about,” Mr. Overson said.
Mr. Thurston married his high school sweetheart, Marsena. He “was head over heels” for her and never missed an opportunity to remind her of his love, his family said in a statement. They had two sons, and when he was not fighting fires, he “could always be found at the baseball field or on the floor playing with his kids,” the family said.
It was no surprise to Mr. Overson when he learned that his friend had taken on the demanding, dangerous work of fighting wildfires. It fit his nature.
“He was a hard worker,” Mr. Overson said. “Whatever he got involved in, he gave it his best — especially since it was very service oriented and risky.”
Mr. Thurston became a firefighter and an emergency medical technician in 2008. The family statement called him “energetic,” “compassionate” and “wildly fun to be around, always rallying the group to the next adventure.”
Travis Turbyfill, 27
Hugging Travis Turbyfill was like wrapping your arms around rock, his mother said. Or, according to his grandmother, like hugging a refrigerator.
He was 6-foot-4, brawny enough to lug chainsaws and heavy fire gear up steep mountain slopes and do endless rounds of squats and pull-ups. But he was also tender, family and friends said. He would cradle his two young daughters in his arms at once and happily change dirty diapers while his wife, Stephanie, was at work.
Mr. Turbyfill had enlisted as a Marine but was medically discharged after being injured in a training exercise, said his mother, Colleen. Having grown up in a family of firefighters, he leaped at the chance to work with the Granite Mountain Hotshots.
He had been a full-time member of the team for about a year, his family said, but had hoped to move to a less demanding career, working as an engineer for his hometown, Prescott.
William Warneke, 25
As a little boy, there were two things William Warneke wanted to be when he grew up: a Marine and a firefighter. In the end, the outgoing 25-year-old did both, his grandparents Jack and Nancy recalled.
Mr. Warneke, known as Billy, grew up in Hemet, Calif., not far from Camp Pendleton. Jack Warneke remembered how his son, even as a 6-year-old, would play with an old fire extinguisher, draping himself in a yellow rain jacket and scampering up his grandfather’s ladder with his brother and cousin. He joined R.O.T.C. in high school and enlisted in the Marines after graduation, shipping off to Iraq in 2005.
When he got back, his father said, Mr. Warneke was intent on chasing down his other dream. He moved to Tucson, where his high school sweetheart Roxanne had relocated, and enrolled in community college so he could be certified as a firefighter. Earlier this year, Mr. Warneke told his family excitedly that he had been selected to join the Hotshots. He even moved to Prescott temporarily so he could be closer to the crew’s base of operations.
“He and Roxanne had just got married and were expecting a baby in December. It would have been their first,” Ms. Warneke, his grandmother, said. “They were going to have a little farm, and life was going to be perfect.”
Clayton Whitted, 28
Clayton Whitted felt a spiritual calling to fight fires.
He grew up in Prescott, Ariz., and joined the Prescott Hotshots right out of high school.
Around 2007, he left the Hotshots for about a year and went to work as a pastor at Heights Church, hoping to spend more time with his family in Prescott while his mother was ailing.
Sheri Winter, a member of the church, said Mr. Whitted used to come pray with her family every night after her brother was diagnosed with cancer. And he always bought her daughter a stuffed animal for her birthday, each year a larger one than the last.
“He was as solid as a rock, as far as supporting us and keeping us strong,” Ms. Winter said.
In 2008, he decided to return to firefighting, this time with the Granite Mountain Hotshots. Bob Hoyt, a fellow pastor at Heights Church, said Mr. Whitted told him: “God just wants me to be a firefighter. I feel like I can be Christ to those firemen.”
Mr. Hoyt said Mr. Whitted had planned to remain with the Hotshots for perhaps another year. Then he wanted to have children with his wife, Kristi, whom he had married in 2011 after proposing aboard a hot air balloon.
Kevin Woyjeck, 21
It was no surprise to the Los Angeles County firefighters who knew the family that Kevin Woyjeck dreamed of joining their ranks one day. After all, his father, Joe, is a nearly 30-year veteran of the department and helps run its museum, which restores old firefighting equipment. It was not unusual to see Captain Woyjeck's young son at the firehouses around the Bellflower, Calif., area where he worked, and the elder Woyjeck would even take the boy out on calls with him.
“Kevin grew up at the fire station,” said Keith Mora, an inspector with the Los Angeles County Fire Department. “He was this great kid. Very upbeat, enthusiastic, loved to joke. But he also had this very calm, professional demeanor.”
More than that, Mr. Mora said, Mr. Woyjeck was deeply motivated, joining a mentorship program at the department to sharpen his skills and even becoming a licensed emergency medical technician while he was still in high school. He wanted to “be the best of the best” — a quest that took him this fire season to Arizona, where he had found a crew of hotshots he thought were especially good.
“He wanted to be a part of it,” Mr. Mora said.
The Los Angeles County Fire Department does plenty of work on wildfires, so Mr. Woyjeck’s moving to Arizona was no surprise, though it was hard on his parents at first, Mr. Mora said. But at least Mr. Woyjeck was only a few hours’ drive from the firehouses where he had wandered as a boy. And the plan was that he would return to California an even stronger firefighter, just like his father.
“Their relationship was like best friends,” Mr. Mora said. “His dad loved him with all his heart and shared everything with him. He was extremely proud of his son — proud that his son wanted to follow in his footsteps.”
Garret Zuppiger, 27
Garret Zuppiger's heart was always bigger than his red beard.
He and five other Hotshots often worked out together at Captain CrossFit, a gym just across the street from their station. The men would jog in together, already sweating from firefighting training, and jump into another round of punishing exercise. Tony Burris, a trainer, said Mr. Zuppiger was good-natured and never forgot a name. They had a running joke about their beards.
“I’d always make fun of him because it wasn’t as big as mine,” Mr. Burris said. “He’d come in and say, ‘Hey, it grew!’ ”
Mr. Zuppiger’s family could not be reached for comment, but a disabled neighbor told USA Today that Mr. Zuppiger was kind and selfless, always offering to help.
A blog written under his name, last updated in 2011, shows a love of dirt biking and traveling, of climbing mountains with his mother and customizing a skateboard to bear his unusual last name. The name of the blog is, “I’d Rather Be Flying.”