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Over the nearly five years since the loss of 19 of Prescott’s Granite Mountain Hotshots, those close to the tragedy heard a recurring comment: “Something needs to be done.”
The plea for action relates to the thousands of items that community members and firefighters from all over the world left on the chain-link fence that surrounded Station 7, the home of the Hotshots.
In the days and weeks after 19 of the Hotshots died fighting the Yarnell Hill Fire in June 2013, the fence became a gathering place for the grieving community.
While all of the items were painstakingly preserved and stored in the summer and fall of 2013, there has been no public location where visitors and local residents could come to see the items and learn about the tragedy.
That is about to change this year – the five-year mark of the Hotshot deaths.
This past summer, a group of local residents — family members, community members, and city officials — reportedly took the community comment to heart.
“Every year, we heard from people that something needs to be done; that the City of Prescott needs a place to come,” Diane Clevenger, a board member with the Granite Mountain Interagency Hotshot Crew (GMIHC) Learning and Tribute Center, told a group of about 35 people who turned out for an organizational meeting Monday, May 14.
“We’re here today to say, indeed, something is being done,” Clevenger added.
She and six other board members outlined plans for the new Learning and Tribute Center that is currently under development in the former Footlocker store space at the Prescott Gateway Mall.
Already, several-hundred T-shirts from fire departments around the nation line the back wall of the space, and displays are in place to honor each of the fallen Hotshots.
But plenty of work still needs to be done. Center curator Katie Cornelius told the audience that volunteers would be needed for the first three weeks of June to continue the set up of the center.
Then, organizers say the need will shift to docents who will work in the center.
A number of audience members signed up as volunteers at the meeting, and organizers say online signup is also available. The organization’s email address is: [email protected], and its website is https://gmihc19.org/. In addition, a Facebook page is available at gmihc19.
Organizers stressed Monday that the center would focus not only on the fallen 19, but on education about wildfire as well. It also will honor firefighters in general, they say.
Board members were optimistic this week that the work would be complete in time for the planned public opening on June 29 – the day before the five-year mark of the Hotshot deaths.
Board member Dennis Bueschel noted that volunteers had already devoted hundreds of hours to moving all of the memorabilia from its previous storage location on McCormick Street to the Prescott Gateway Mall, as well as on unpacking and setting up.
“The work goes on,” Bueschel said, noting that the center set-up is now about halfway complete.
Local attorney and GMIHC Board Member Tony Shaw commended the group’s progress.
“I’ve lived in this community for many, many years, and this is a grassroots effort like I haven’t seen before,” Shaw said, adding that much of the legal work for formation of the non-profit organization is now complete.
Board member Karen Norris, the mother of fallen Hotshot Scott Norris, lauded the “absolutely selfless” volunteers who previously spent thousands of hours “taking things off the fence, freezing them, and cataloging them.” She added: “I have a lot of gratitude as a mom.”
Prescott Fire Chief Dennis Light, who was unable to attend the Monday meeting but who has championed the Learning and Tribute Center, said later that the group “Is right on course” to have the center open by late June.
Among firefighters, Light said, “We talk about ‘forming, storming, performing, and norming.’ I think this group has gone through all of those.”
The biggest challenge facing the group now, Light added, is “amassing sufficient volunteers to staff the center.”
Along with the setup work and overseeing the center after it opens, the board is also looking for volunteers to help with fundraising and publicity.