Friends, family share stories of fallen Hotshots

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, July 7 2013 5:30 p.m. MDT

Deborah Heinemann pays her respects at a makeshift memorial outside the Granite Mountain Interagency Hotshot Crew fire station, Tuesday, July 2, 2013 in Prescott, Az., in Prescott, Ariz., honoring 19 firefighters killed battling a wildfire near Yarnell, Ariz., Sunday. The elite crew of firefighters were overtaken by the out-of-control blaze as they tried to protect themselves from the flames under fire-resistant shields.

Chris Carlson, Associated Press

PRESCOTT, Ariz. — Nineteen members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, based in Prescott, were killed last week when a windblown wildfire overcame them north of Phoenix. It was the deadliest single day for U.S. firefighters since 9/11. Fourteen of the victims were in their 20s. Here are the stories of those who died:

ANDREW ASHCRAFT: AN ATHLETIC, GO-GETTER

Prescott High School physical education teacher and coach Lou Beneitone taught many of the Hotshots, and remembered Andrew Ashcraft, 29, as a fitness-oriented student.

"He had some athletic ability in him, and he was a go-getter, too. You could pretty much see, from young freshman all the way, he was going to be physically active."

Beneitone said athletic prowess was a must for the Hotshots. "That's what it takes. You gotta be very physically fit, and you gotta like it, gotta like the hard work."

Ashcraft, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was honored to be a member of the Hotshot crew, and "he just had a really sweet spirit about him," Prescott resident Elise Smith told The Deseret News of Salt Lake City.

Ashcraft left behind a wife, Juliann, and four children, the newspaper reported.

ROBERT CALDWELL: THE SMART ONE

Friends characterized Robert Caldwell, 23, as the smart man in the bunch.

"He was really smart. He had a good sense of humor," said Chase Madrid, who worked as a Hotshot for two years, but sat this year out.

"He was one of the smart guys in the crew who could get the weather, figure out the mathematics. It was just natural for him," Madrid said.

It was Caldwell's intelligence and know-how that got him appointed as a squad boss.

His cousin, Grant McKee, also was one of the Hotshots killed June 30.

"Robert was a gentle giant — he was man of few words," said his aunt, Laurie McKee.

He had just gotten married in November, and had a 5-year-old stepson.

"Both of these boys were only interested in having a family life. Robert was newly married, and Grant was engaged. They just wanted the house and the dog," McKee said.

Mary Hoffmann was grandmother to both boys.

"To have two grandsons gone, it's devastation," she said.

TRAVIS CARTER: STRONG AND HUMBLE

At Captain Crossfit, a gym near the firehouse where the Hotshots were stationed, Travis Carter was known as the strongest one on the crew — but also the most humble.

"No one could beat him," trainer Janine Pereira 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."

Carter, 31, was famous for once holding a plank for 45 minutes, and he was notorious for making up brutal workouts.

The crew recently did a 5-mile run during wilderness training. He then made them go to Captain Crossfit in the afternoon for another hard workout.

"The other guys who came in here always said that even though he was in charge, he was always the first one at the fire, the first one in action," Pereira said.

DUSTIN DEFORD: DRY SENSE OF HUMOR

Dustin DeFord, 24, had been a firefighter since he turned 18 and started as a volunteer in tiny Ekalaka, Mont. His father, the Rev. Steve DeFord, said the outpouring of support there has been unbelievable.

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