Granite Mountain Hotshots

My Lost Brothers : Remembering the Granite Mountain Hotshots

Granite Mountain Hotshots

This website is a permanent living memorial to the crew of the 2013 Granite Mountain Hotshots.  Since their deaths on June 30, 2013 a lot has been said and written about them and about the incident.  However, as time passes much of that information becomes buried within the millions of internet articles and websites.  The goal here is to create one place where anyone can find information about the tragedy and about the crew members – and have it always be here.

The Granite 19 Mission

  • To permanently keep the memory and spirit of the GMHS alive.
  • To better our communities and raise money for worthy organizations.
  • To honor all members of the crew by donating funds to charity on their behalf.
  • To encourage Americans to adopt a fit and healthy lifestyle.
  • To do this as a community service and on a not-for-profit basis.

Encouraging America to Get Out and Get Fit

Hotshots are known to be some of the fittest individuals around.  As such, one of our missions is to encourage Americans to get out and exercise.  Start something new.  Set a goal to run a 5k this year.  Set a higher goal – go farther than you have before.

The Crew of the Granite Mountain Hotshots of 2013

Eric Shane Marsh
Age: 43
Jesse James Steed
Age: 36
Clayton Thomas Whitted
Age: 28
Joe Thurston
Age: 32
William “Billy” Warneke
Age: 25
Wade Scott Parker
Age: 22
Travis Turbyfill
Age: 27
Travis Carter
Age: 31
Sean Misner
Age: 26
Scott Norris
Age: 28
Robert Caldwell
Age: 23
Kevin Woyjeck
Age: 21
John Percin
Age: 24
Grant Mckee
Age: 21
Garret Zuppiger
Age: 27
Dustin Deford
Age: 24
Chris Mackenzie
Age: 30
Anthony Rose
Age: 23
Andrew Ashcraft
Age: 29
Brendan McDonough
The sole survivor of the hotshot crew killed by the Yarnell Hill Fire. We’re glad you’re still with us Doughnut.

 

My Lost Brothers: The Untold Story by the Yarnell Hill Fire’s Lone Survivor – The Reviews

My Lost Brothers by Brandon McDonoughThe Yarnell Hill fire in June 2013 was devastating – to the 19 firefighters who lost their lives, to their families and friends. To the townspeople in Yarnell and Prescott. And to the firefighter who lived.

Hotshot crews are made up of 20 firefighters. In the Yarnell Hill fire, 19 died and the 20th, Brendan McDonough, lived. He tells about the experience in My Lost Brothers: The Untold Story by the Yarnell Hill Fire’s Lone Survivor. Written with Stephan Tally, it was published on May 3 by Hachette Books.

Brendan McDonough was on the verge of becoming a hopeless, inveterate heroin addict when he, for the sake of his young daughter, decided to turn his life around. He enlisted in the Granite Mountain Hotshots, a team of elite firefighters based in Prescott, Arizona. Their leader, Eric Marsh, was in a desperate crunch after four hotshots left the unit, and perhaps seeing a glimmer of promise in the skinny would-be recruit, he took a chance on the unlikely McDonough, and the chance paid off. Despite the crew’s skepticism, and thanks in large part to Marsh’s firm but loving encouragement, McDonough unlocked a latent drive and dedication, going on to successfully battle a number of blazes and eventually win the confidence of the men he came to call his brothers.

Then, on June 30, 2013, while McDonough–“Donut” as he’d been dubbed by his team–served as lookout, they confronted a freak, 3,000-degree inferno in nearby Yarnell, Arizona. The relentless firestorm ultimately trapped his hotshot brothers, tragically killing all 19 of them within minutes. Nationwide, it was the greatest loss of firefighter lives since the 9/11 attacks.

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Life Before the Granite Mountain Hotshots

Brendan McDonough was given a chance on the Hotshots when he was 19. A lot had happened in his short life prior to joining the group.

His dad wasn’t around and his mother moved then frequently. He did join the Fire Explorers at 14, but later he got into drugs, including heroin, and even sold drugs. He was convicted of burglary. He had a daughter at age 19.

Before joining the Hotshots, he had trouble getting a job and couldn’t support his daughter. Calling it a “dark period in his life,” he says he couldn’t even get hired at a fast food place flipping burgers. For his daughter, he knew he needed to turn his life around.

Finding a Family

McDonough was a fourth-round pick when he applied to join the Granite Mountain Hotshots. Three applicants washed out before him. The crew was desperate for recruits, which explains why the leader, Eric Marsh, gave McDonough a chance.

Other crew members were skeptical, but it worked for McDonough and for the group. He bonded with them, and successfully trained and fought fires with them. They called him “Donut,” and grew to trust him as he developed a purpose in life, and drive and dedication.

Officially called Interagency Hotshot Crews, these groups are the elite of wildland firefighters and the training is grueling. Crew members need to be in excellent physical shape and able to work for long periods in remote areas, without logistical support. After receiving advanced training in fire suppression, they are sent out to fight the big fires, those considered especially dangerous and high-priority.

A hotshot crew is 20 firefighters strong. They learn, train and work together, and bond. McDonough says, “The hotshot crew was the best thing that ever happened to me. It saved my life.”

He calls the other 19 members his family. He learned firefighting with them. They taught him about manhood, fatherhood and brotherhood. He says they became his structure, his mentors and his guidance. The superintendent of the group, Eric Marsh, became a surrogate father.

The Fire

Since McDonough joined the Hotshots, they had successfully fought a number of fires. The Yarnell Hill fire, close to their home ground, started out as just another one.

Lightning touched off the fire around Yarnell on June 28. The Granite Mountain Hotshots were among the 600 firefighters on the line. Eventually the fire covered 8,400 acres, injured 29 people and destroyed over 120 structures.

On June 30 Marsh had McDonough act as the lookout for the crew. Staying in a single location separate from the rest of the group, his job was to observe the fire, take weather observations and keep the crew updated about how the fire was progressing and its location in relation to where the hotshots were.

On that day the other 19 firefighters were in a safe area, the term used for spots that had already burned. But they left the safe spot and hiked through areas dense with unburned brush.

Just at that point, outflow winds stirred by a thunderstorm caused the fire to change direction. The 19 were trapped by the fire in a box canyon. They had set up emergency fire shelters, but all were killed when the fire burned through.

The wind change also put McDonough’s position in danger. He had set up his emergency fire shelter, but then got a message over the radio from a fire official to move out. He started walking out and was picked up by a member of the Blue Ridge Hotshots.

When they realized the Granite Mountain crew was trapped, they tried to reach them. But the flames were too high and too intense. McDonough was the lone survivor.

After the Fire

McDonough spent the first eight months after the fire attending funerals and memorial services. He talked to investigators and answered every question he could. He gave interviews, which he hoped would protect grieving families by providing a different target for the invasive interest of reporters.

For a year he worked for the nonprofit Wildland Firefighter Foundation. This job included talking to firefighters with mental and physical scars from the job. He visited families who had lost someone in a fire and helped with fundraisers.

Later he said he was trying to help others heal, while healing himself. But the fire haunted him. It’s important to realize that McDonough was just 21 when he lost his Hotshot family.

One day he pulled over on the side of the highway, pulled out a gun and thought about suicide. He then thought of his daughter and the families of his brother Hotshots who were struggling to comes to terms with their deaths. He realized he couldn’t put his own family through that.

One of the reasons he wrote the book is to share his story of PTSD. He said he wanted to “help people know that it’s okay to get help. You can’t always be strong and tough if you can’t even help yourself.”

He connected with a therapist at the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial service, got some advice and started counseling with a local therapist. He said it saved his life.

Writing the book has also been therapeutic. Issues kept coming up during the writing that he was able to talk through with his therapist.

He collaborated on the book with Stephan Talty, who wrote A Captain’s Duty about a ship captain kidnapped by Somali pirates and rescued by Navy SEALs.

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Controversy About Why They Died

There is a big question surrounding the deaths of the 19 Hotshots. Why did they leave the safe area? The unburned brush they walked through was natural fodder for the fire. When the wind turned and the fire came their way, they were surrounded and never had a chance.

Prior to publication, people expressed the hope that McDonough would reveal the secret of their move or unreported background information that might explain their decision.

In fact, in April, 2015, there were reports that he told a fire official that he heard radio communication between Eric Marsh and the rest of the crew. Marsh, the superintendent of the Hotshots, had scouted ahead of the others. He then ordered the rest to follow him to a ranch compound that was also a safe area. To get there, the group had to walk through unburned brush. The group argued via radio that it wasn’t safe, so Marsh issued an order for them to come to the ranch.

McDonough hotly disputes this, insisting that the information is wrong. He says that he kept nothing back from investigators. He had no secrets to reveal in the book. Very little new data comes out in the book, beyond what was already reported in interviews and investigations.

Brendan McDonough Brendan McDonough on assignment with the Granite Mountain Hotshots

There have been several lawsuits filed and investigations as a result of the deaths. McDonough doesn’t blame Marsh or the crew, and the accusations have caused him deep pain. “These guys were amazing men and they got caught in a really bad situation.”

He was called by the State of Arizona to give sworn testimony for a deposition in May, 2015, but it was later canceled for reasons he doesn’t understand. He wished he could have told his story once more in an official setting.

Though nothing new or startling wouldn’t have come out of it, he says it would have given him another chance to state what he saw happen that day. He was “trying to make sure my brothers were not going to get blamed for something they didn’t do.” He wanted the chance to refute untrue stories and to “make sure I was standing up for my brothers.”

In the book he writes, “I had no idea they had moved out of the black

[safe area]. Neither did anyone else.

Reviews on My Lost Brothers: The Untold Story by the Yarnell Hill Fire’s Lone Survivor

The book covers McDonough’s early life and his acceptance by the Hotshots. It presents a minute-by-minute report of the day of the deaths, and covers his own struggles after the fire.

The book is called “a new breed of war story” by Adam Makos, author of A Higher Call. Michael Touglas, who wrote The Finest Hours and So Close to Home,  says it is a “terrifying lesson.” The author of The Mountain: My Time on Everest, Ed Viesturs, admires how McDonough, “the least likely guy every to become a hotshot,” has managed to stay on an even keel after the fire. Stephen Templin, who wrote SEAL Team Six, calls it “suspenseful and intense.”

Readers of the book are giving it five-star reviews. Comments include:

  • “I found myself laughing and choking up throughout the book.”
  • “Completely captivating.”
  • “I started crying from the detail and how real McDonough depicts every aspect of his brothers.”
  • “Stories like Brendan’s and the Granite Mountain Hotshots inspire me to be a better person every day.”
  • “Mr. McDonough injects healthy amounts of humor that will bring both laughter and tears.”
  • “It is unusual for a 23-year-old to write a memoir. But Brendan McDonough had a very unusual story to tell, and he has done it well.”
  • “Well written…without being maudlin.”
  • “A remarkably honest and straightforward story.”
  • “Couldn’t put it down.”
  • “Brought his brothers to life on the page.”

It is available in bookstores and online sellers, in both hardback, as an ebook like Kindle and as an audiobook.