Fallen Arizona firefighters

Well-wishers left flowers and tributes outside the Fire Department in Prescott, Ariz., after a 8,374-acre blaze overwhelmed 19 elite wildland firefighters.

Photos: Yarnell Hill fire in Arizona | Map: Critical locations | Graphic: How firefighters gear up

Fallen Arizona firefighters

Kevin Woyjeck, 21

Kevin Woyjeck was following in the footsteps of his father, Los Angeles County Fire Capt. Joe Woyjeck, said L.A. County Fire Dept. Inspector Keith Mora.

He started as a Fire Explorer, an L.A. County Fire Department mentorship and training program, and was a paramedic in Los Angeles and Orange counties. He eventually hoped to work side by side with his father, who has been a county fire captain for nearly 30 years, Mora said.

Mora described Woyjeck as a hardworking young man with a great personality and sense of humor. Woyjeck was from Seal Beach, where his family still lives.

”This young man was working with us trying to become like his father,” he said. “For something like this to happen is just a tragedy.”

— Ruben Vives and Samantha Schaefer

Photo: Kevin Woyjeck, right, with his father, Los Angeles County Fire Capt. Joe Woyjeck. Credit: Associated Press.

Christopher MacKenzie, 30

Christopher MacKenzie was a 2001 Hemet High graduate who joined the U.S. Forest Service in 2004. He moved to the Prescott Fire Department about two years ago, the Riverside Press-Enterprise reported.

Yesterday I saw about the firefighters in Arizona and I always pay attention, being a former firefighter myself,” said Dav Fulford-Brown, MacKenzie’s friend since childhood and former roommate in Hemet. “I said, ‘Oh my God, that’s Chris’ crew.’ I started calling him and calling him and got no answer.”

MacKenzie was a firefighter just like his father, former Moreno Valley Cal Fire Capt. Mike MacKenzie, the Press-Enterprise reported

He lived life to the fullest. He was an avid snowboarder and was fighting fire just like his dad,” Fulford-Brown said. “He was finishing his credentials to get promoted and loved the people. It’s an insane tragedy.”

— Ruben Vives and Samantha Schaefer

Christopher MacKenzie of Hemet. Credit: KTLA.

William Warneke, 25

Billy Warneke, 25, had just bought property in Prescott, near where his sister lives, according to the Riverside Press-Enterprise. He joined the hotshot crew in April, and was a four-year veteran with the U.S. Marine Corps.

When his grandparents, Jack and Nancy Warneke, saw the news about the fire, they called Warneke’s sister. She told them their grandson and his unit were gone.

Even though it’s a tragedy for the whole family, he was doing what he loved to do. He loved nature and was helping preserve nature,” Nancy Warneke said.

Warneke’s wife is due with their first child in December, Nancy Warneke told the Press-Enterprise.

— Ruben Vives and Samantha Schaefer

Credit: Prescott Fire Department.

Scott Norris, 28

Scott Norris, 28, was one of the newest members of the Granite Mountain crew: He transferred from a hotshot team in nearby Payson earlier this year and started work at the beginning of the fire season, about six weeks ago.

In the off-season, Norris worked part-time in sales, shipping and receiving at Bucky O’Neill Gun Shop in downtown Prescott. After six months in the shop, he’d built a rapport with the customers, said co-owner Jim Marnell. Older customers in particular liked his gentle manner, ability to remember faces and tendency to joke around. “He was raised right,” Marnell said. “He just came out a good person.”

Norris spoke often about firefighting, Marnell said, and the rugged lifestyle of a hotshot crew. “I asked him once, how long he went without a shower,” Marnell said, “and he said, ‘14 days.’ No showers. Sleeping in tents. And he loved it.”

Norris was an outdoorsman who went to the mountains in his leisure time, shot his own guns and rode a mountain bike. He was born and raised in Prescott, where he graduated from Yavapai College. He was not married and had no children.

— Laura J. Nelson

Credit: Prescott Fire Department.

Clayton Whitted, 28

Clayton Whitted was a personable leader who always had a smile on his face, his former high school football coach told the Los Angeles Times.

Whitted played on both the offensive and defensive lines. He wasn’t a particularly big guy, but he was tough and coachable, Lou Beneitone said.

Beneitone last saw Whitted about two months ago at Prescott High School. He knew Whitted had joined the hotshot fire crew.

The two talked about how the dry conditions could lead to a busy summer for the crew.

We shook hands, and I told him to be careful,” Beneitone said.

Clayton and his wife, Kristi, married several years ago in a simple ceremony attended by about 150 people.

Their wedding website still displays photos of the couple strolling through a forest, at a rodeo, in each other’s arms.

Lisa Lain co-owns Watters Garden Center, the Prescott greenhouse where the marriage took place. She said her husband had worked with Clayton in a youth group through their church.

He was a very giving person, and he reached out to others, and he was a very, very nice young man,” she said.

The Whitteds’ wedding website says: ”Newlyweds for 870 days!”

— Devin Kelly and Andrew Khouri

Credit: Gregory Miller.

Robert Caldwell, 23, and Grant McKee, 21

Family, friends and neighbors of Robert Caldwell, left, and his cousin, Grant McKee, recalled how different the two were in their personalities, but how well they worked together.

Caldwell, one of the crew leaders, was an outdoorsman and a “gentle giant” who showed his love through actions, not words, his aunt Linda McKee said. Grant McKee was, as one friend put it, “spunky, loud and, for a while, somewhat troubled.”

The youngest of the family’s four cousins, McKee was chatty and generous, his grandmother remembered. He grew up in Costa Mesa and attended Newport Harbor High School, where he was a wrestler. He moved to Arizona when he was 17 to live with his aunt — a more “homespun environment,” she said, where Caldwell often coaxed him to go camping, fishing and hiking.

McKee began to straighten out when he decided to start “in the fire path,” said John Nelson, 20, an oil field worker who knew both men. “I remember the night Grant said, ‘I’m going to fight fires, like Robert,’” Nelson said. “You’ve got to have a fire in your heart, because you don’t fight fires for yourself. It is utterly terrifying, but it is also a rush.”

McKee was certified a year ago as a hotshot crew member. He also held an EMT certification and hoped to become a paramedic. He recently became engaged.

Caldwell got married in November and had a 5-year-old stepson.

— Laura J. Nelson and Louis Sahagun

Credit: Prescott Fire Department.

Andrew Ashcraft, 29

T.J. Ashcraft looked up to his little brother Andrew.

We always kind of pushed each other in good ways,” the U.S. Army sergeant, 32, told the Los Angeles Times. “He went the firefighter route and I went the military route.”

He said his brother was a father of four.

All I can say is he was a really great guy, a really great father,” T.J. Ashcraft said in a phone interview. He was preparing to head to Arizona from Kentucky, where he is stationed.

Ashcraft asked all who know the families to “keep praying for comfort in this hard time.”

— Andrew Khouri

Credit: Melodee Tonti / Double Scoop Photography.

Anthony Rose, 23

Glendale, Ariz., resident Phyllis Barney and her family met Anthony Rose when he was 16 years old.

He had moved to the small, tight-knit community of Crown King, where Barney has a summer home. “He was a wonderful young man,” she said.

Rose, 23, had worked for the Crown King Fire Department. He was a “fantastic person, and a great worker,” a perfect fit for the rigors of the Granite Mountain Hotshots crew, Crown King Fire Chief Steve Lombardo told the Los Angeles Times.

It’s tragic, absolutely tragic,” Lombardo said.

Barney said Rose and his fiancee were expecting their first child.

— Devin Kelly

Credit: Prescott Fire Department.

Wade Parker, 22

Ronda Ehlert, 43, was Wade Parker’s youth pastor at Chino Valley’s Word of Life Church, about 30 miles north of Prescott.

She recalled him as “a rambunctious little boy, always moving.” As a teenager, Parker loved getting into things like hunting, dirt-biking and camping. He “helped lead the Chino Valley High School baseball team to state championships two years in a row,” Ehlert said.

Many acquaintances said one of his greatest loves was “worship music,” particularly by the Christian rock group Third Day.

Ehlert said Parker’s father got the call at 4:30 p.m. Sunday that his son was missing. She said she learned from Parker’s mother, Michelle, three hours later that “Wade was gone.”

Ehlert said Parker had a younger brother and two older sisters, and described the family as “extremely tightly knit.”

Firefighting was his passion. You’d never hear him complain about it,” she said. “Those guys knew they were the best, and they were proud of it.”

— Louis Sahagun

Photo: A picture of fallen firefighter Wade Parker is displayed at a memorial at a fire station in Prescott, Ariz. Credit: Patrick Breen / Arizona Republic.

Dustin DeFord, 24

Dustin DeFord learned to love two things growing up: God and firefighters.

He was raised in Ekalala, a tiny town in southeastern Montana, by a Baptist pastor who volunteered for the local fire department. Surrounded by teenagers and toddlers, Dustin — the fifth of 10 children — was always loud and in motion, roughhousing with his seven brothers and sprinting during playtime. “Even into his 20s, he was an innocent boy who never grew up,” his mother, Celeste DeFord, told The Times. Even in adulthood, she said, he retained a “pure view of the world.”

The DeFord sons had dreamed of starting a family fire company. The family’s eldest son joined the Marines. The next four became firefighters.

DeFord joined his father at the Custer County Fire Department when he turned 18. He briefly left firefighting to attend Cornerstone Bible Institute in South Dakota and serve a mission in Canada. He moved to Arizona in January to join the Granite Mountain Interagency Hotshot Crew.

During the hours the crew spent near danger, DeFord talked about God. Although not all the crew members were practicing Christians, memories and appreciations of DeFord’s faith circulated on Facebook on Monday, his mother said.

He was not afraid of death,” his mother said. “There was no fear. He had a simple faith in Jesus — that whatever he chose, it was going to be all right.”

— Laura J. Nelson

Credit: Prescott Fire Department.

Jesse Steed, 36

Jesse Steed saw fighting wildfires as a way to serve the community.

A former Marine, Steed worked as a hotshot for the Prescott and Granite Mountain fire crews. His neighbor, Bill Halpin, described him as a “big bull of a guy” who ran through their suburban housing development in Prescott Valley. He also went on camping trips and worked on cars in his driveway, Halpin said.

Neighbors have started a relief fund to help Steed’s widow, a stay-at-home mom. The couple has two children: a 4-year-old boy and a 2-year-old girl.

— Molly Hennessy-Fiske

Credit: Prescott Fire Department.

Eric Marsh, 43

Eric Marsh was the superintendent of the Granite Mountain hotshot team and the oldest crew member to die in the Yarnell Hill fire, his father said.

He grew up in Ashe County, N.C., and became interested in firefighting while studying biology at Arizona State University, the Associated Press reported. He lived with his cousin in North Carolina during the winter between 1992 and 1996, returning to Arizona during fire season each summer.

He was the best at what he did,” said Leanna Racquer, the ex-wife of Marsh’s cousin. After college, Marsh continued to work as a firefighter and eventually landed a full-time job in northern Arizona.

— Laura J. Nelson

Credit: Prescott Fire Department.

Joe Thurston, 32

When a group of friends ventured into the wilderness of southern Utah, Joe Thurston was the one who willingly flung himself off a 40-foot cliff, adding a front flip, into the water far below.

Thurston, a native of Cedar City, Utah, was a daredevil who loved being active and being outdoors, friends from Utah told the Salt Lake Tribune. He was a drummer in a band and loved to skateboard.

He was never one to shy away from a challenge or new experience,” classmate and friend E.J. Overson said. “He was service-oriented, very caring and willing to do some things that many others would say, ‘I don’t want to get involved.’”

Thurston graduated from Cedar High School, where he played soccer, and attended Southern Utah University. One of his favorite things to do, another longtime friend said, was to sneak a key to the school swimming pool and throw late-night parties there.

Thurston wasn’t outspoken and was considerate toward everyone. “When you got to know him, you’d realize there was a lot more to know than you might think at first blush,” Overson said. “He was able to touch a lot of lives.”

— Laura J. Nelson

Credit: Prescott Fire Department.

Garret Zuppiger, 27

Garret Zuppiger loved to be funny.

On his blog, “I’d Rather Be Flying,” the 27-year-old chronicled his hijinks through the United States, including a hokey photo shoot at a Sears in Palm Springs, a too-long nap in an Oregon hot spring, and a stop in a San Francisco cafe called “Coffee to the People.”

At this establishment there seems to be an unwritten law stating that all who sit here shall use Macintosh computers and iPhones,” Zuppiger noted wryly. “I fit right in.”

In Oregon, Zuppiger fell in love with the simple beauty of a nearby island, and tried to barter for its sale with the woman who ran the visitor’s center:

I tore a piece of paper from the Crater Lake National Park Map, wrote ‘$3,500 american’ on one side and my cell number on the other side. I said to her as I passed it nonchalantly over the counter, “Maybe this will change your mind.” Rapidly, I turned and exited. I did my best.

He built his own skateboard, which he called the “Zuppiger Pro Model.” He also loved vintage machines: a red Honda motorcycle and a 1952 pickup of indeterminate color.

The dream, Zuppiger said, would be slipping into his truck with a cup of coffee as the sun came up and turning on public radio:

I listen to some obscure news story about Jane Goodall or a career librarian. If it’s Saturday, it’s Car Talk. Into gear the truck goes, and I motor to wherever at the blazing top speed of 45–55 mph. Old Truck, Warm Coffee and Talk Radio. And me smiling.

— Laura J. Nelson

Credit: Prescott Fire Department.

John Percin, 24

John Percin, who grew up near Portland, Ore., had an unforgettable laugh and loved to play baseball, his friends and relatives remembered. He was a multi-sport high school athlete who graduated from West Linn High School in 2007.

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.

An old friend, Geoff McEvers, grew up playing baseball with Percin and remembered him as a fun-loving guy, the Oregonian reported. “It’s already tragic when you hear about those who died,” McEvers said, “but when you find out it’s someone you know personally, it’s tough.”

— Laura J. Nelson

Photo: John Percin in a photograph provided by the family.

Sean Misner, 26

Sean Misner, 26, was the nephew of Montecito Fire Department Operations Chief Terry McElwee and grandson of former Fire Chief Herb McElwee, according to the department.

Misner played varsity football and participated in the school’s sports medicine program, where he wrapped sprained ankles and took care of sidelined athletes.

He was a team player, a real helper,” Mark Swanitz, principal of Santa Ynez Valley Union High School, told the Associated Press. “He was very passionate and committed to his career as a firefighter.”

Misner played several positions on his high school’s football team, including wide receiver and defensive back. He was slim, but it didn’t stop him from tackling his opponents, retired football coach Ken Gruendyke said in the AP report..

He played with tremendous heart and desire,” Gruendyke said. “He wasn’t the biggest or fastest guy on the team, but he played with great emotion and intensity.”

He leaves a wife who is seven months pregnant, Swanitz told AP.

— Samantha Schaefer and Ruben Vives

Credit: Prescott Fire Department.

Travis Carter, 31

Travis Carter, known as the strongest man on the hotshots crew, once famously held a plank for 45 minutes.

The 31-year-old was a relentless worker, but he was also humble, Captain Crossfit trainer Janine Pereira told the Associated Press. “No one could beat him,” she said. “But the thing about him was he would never brag about it. He would just kill everyone and then go and start helping someone else finish.”

— Devin Kelly

Credit: Prescott Fire Department.

Travis Turbyfill, 27

Nicknamed “Turby” among the crew, Travis Turbyfill worked out with fellow hotshots at Captain Crossfit gym in Prescott, Ariz.

He trained in the morning, and then came back in the afternoon with his wife and children, the Associated Press reported.

Tony Burris, one of the trainers, recalled that scene. “He’s this big, huge Marine, hotshot guy, and he has two little girls — reddish-blond curly hair — and they just loved their dad,” Burris told the AP.

Turbyfill, 27, graduated from Prescott High School in 2004. “I have decided to live forever or die in the attempt,” the caption under his yearbook photo reads, the Arizona Republic reported.

— Devin Kelly

Credit: Prescott Fire Department.

Sources: City of Prescott | Lead image: Krista Kennell / AFP/Getty Images

Credits: Written by Los Angeles Times Staff | Produced by Evan Wagstaff