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Utah’s Lone Peak Hotshots Pay Tribute To Fallen Firefighters At Yarnell 

DRAPER, Utah – A group of Utah firefighters were on their way home from the southern United States when they felt compelled to stop at the Yarnell Hill Fire, where 19 firefighters lost their lives in 2013.

Big clouds of smoke in the sky and the smell of burning brush are sure signs of summer. It also means Justin Roach and his team have to be ready.

“I know the big reason for me is the challenging aspect of the job,” said Roach.

Wildland firefighters can’t make vacation plans this time of year. Then again, for them, not even Disneyland provides the thrills they get on the job.

“You get that personal satisfaction and satisfaction as a crew at the end of a long day when you’ve accomplished a big task,” said Roach.

He’s a member of the Lone Peak Hotshots, one of Utah’s Division of Forestry, Fire & State Lands wildfire crews.

The team returned home Wednesday after a 19-day assignment fighting wildfires in Arizona and New Mexico. 

“It’s always good to be back home,” said Shayne Ward, who is a lead firefighter on the Lone Peak Hotshot crew. “You miss the family and get a little homesick and it’s just nice coming home, chance to relax and really recoup for the next one.” 

That next one could be soon. The team only gets two days off.

“It is hard work. It’s really unforgiving and it’s not as glorious as they make it out to be,” said Ward.

Sometimes, the job can also be deadly.  

The team was reminded of that Tuesday in Arizona during their trip back home.

Even though the crew wanted to get home, they just had to stop in Yarnell and visit the site where 19 members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots were killed in 2013.

“When you’re in that area, it’s almost like a duty to go and pay your respects to those guys,” said Ward.

That site is now a memorial paying tribute to those firefighters.

“I didn’t think I was going to choke up as much as I did,” said Roach. “But the more you sit there and kind of look at the gravesites, the more it just all sinks in and the power of the area really gets to you.”

Ask any firefighter who has been there, and they’ll tell you it puts everything in perspective.

“We complain about long, hot shifts, but at the end of the day, we’re going home to our folks and our kids and those guys didn’t have that opportunity,” said Ward.

Firefighting is a strong brotherhood to begin with. Visiting a site like Yarnell only makes it stronger.

“I think it takes a real man to cry in front of other men, especially in a job like this,” said Roach. “I think we’re really lucky to be in an environment where we’re super supportive of each other and no one is going to look down on you upon that.”

It’s this kind of job where facing danger to keep people safe is considered normal, even if it costs them their lives.

“It’s a way to remember them and keep them in the limelight so they’re never forgotten,” said Ward.

Visiting the memorial is one of the few times the Lone Peak Hotshots weren’t in such a rush.

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