Firefighters united in grief

'Close-knit community' stunned by deaths in Arizona blaze

Pam Sichting, lead information officer at the fire center at Grand Mesa Middle School, looks over a lightning map at the center. “The firefighting community is a close-knit community,” one that is still coming to terms with the disaster on the Yarnell fire, and such events “can be really tough on people,” Sichting said.



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Pam Sichting, lead information officer at the fire center at Grand Mesa Middle School, looks over a lightning map at the center. “The firefighting community is a close-knit community,” one that is still coming to terms with the disaster on the Yarnell fire, and such events “can be really tough on people,” Sichting said.

The news of 19 firefighters who died in Arizona on Sunday trickled into the local firefighter mobilization center, leaving some stunned and teary and others stoic.

“We had all kinds of reactions,” said Pam Sichting, spokeswoman for the team that set up the center last week at Grand Mesa Middle School.

“Some people were weeping, some people just internalize it,” Sichting said. “Last night I got teary-eyed, too.”

The firefighters who gathered at the center, where they receive instructions, were among the first to know there was trouble on the fire when cellphones began ringing.

The first news was that the Granite Mountain Hotshots had lost communication, Sichting said.

“The firefighting community is a close-knit community,” one that is still coming to terms with the disaster on the Yarnell fire and such events “can be really tough on people,” Sichting said.

Firefighters gathered in the middle school gym slept or relaxed with card games, conversations or their tablets, but there was no buzz of conversation.

In the 11 a.m. daily briefing attended by all firefighters present, about 280 at the time, there was a moment of silence on Monday, Sichting said.

Some 450 firefighters have passed through the center since Oregon Interagency Incident Management Team 3 established the center and six crews passed through the center on the way to Arizona.

It’s not known if the Granite Mountain Hotshots were among them, however, Sichting said.

One thing for certain, however, is that when firefighters deploy their fire shelters — shiny cocoons designed to reflect heat and allow firefighters to protect themselves with a small bit of cool air inside — they are in imminent danger.

Shelters are required equipment and full reports are required when the shelters are deployed because using them means the firefighter is facing “the absolute worst of conditions,” Sichting said.



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