I'm feeling very sad today about the lost firefighters, and the lost town, Yarnell, Arizona. Over a long career in the US Forest Service, my father fought many forest fires, as did both my brothers, Jim, now gone, and Dean, who still writes and sings about those ways and times.
Fighting fires is terribly dangerous, terribly necessary work. Many years ago, outside Monrovia, California, Dad was supervising a team of hotshots when the fire jumped over, and they had to deploy their fire shelters to save their lives. As I heard the story, one young firefighter panicked and ran, a sure fatality until my Dad tackled him and brought him back to shelter. Dad had a stiff neck for the rest of his life, but no one died that time.
When he retired from the Forest Service, Dad and Mom moved down from the Mogollon Rim country to warmer Yarnell, where they bought a little house hand built by his colleague and crony, Henry Summerfield. It wasn't much of a house, and Dad worked overtime for several years to make it a good place to live. They grew a big garden for a while, put in a window where they could watch the birds in the plum tree outside, listened to Dodgers games on the radio. They got involved with their neighbors, as people will do in Yarnell, and helped build a new water system and grow the library. Mom outlived Dad there by almost twenty years, walking to the post office every weekday morning with her friend Maxine.
We left Yarnell behind after Mom's death a decade ago. But whether that funky little house stands or is gone, with its carport where we celebrated Mom's 80th birthday, we'll always remember it for the times we spent there, where I retreated when the pressures of young adulthood were too much, where Dean and Jan built a rapidly melting snow man, where Mom brewed some startlingly potent wine. Where David rode in the wheelbarrow, where Gwendolyn opened her Christmas presents, where grandkids and great-grandkids and nieces and nephews and the children of friends climbed the big rocks and chased the quick green lizards in the sun.
Editor's note: A trip to Yarnell today revealed that the former home of Wanda's parents did survive the Yarnell Hill Fire.