19 promises: A year after Arizona tragedy, firefighter's widow filled with gratitude
Many lives were disrupted in the fire's wake. More than 100 structures were destroyed, including Russ and Leah Reason's home. With just enough time to get the car keys and drive away, everything in their home of 28 years was lost.
"I still haven't really gotten over it," Russ Reason said.
The couple has since moved into another house in the area, but they said they still feel far from home.
"I still feel uprooted," Leah Reason said. "We have resettled in another place, but I still haven't gotten to where it's home yet. I'm still kind of in limbo."
With the deaths of the firefighters and the property loss, the Yarnell Hill Fire coalesced into "a tragic loss," Russ Reason said.
"I still have deep feelings about the 19 boys that lost their lives and I still think that's probably the worst part of it," Leah Reason said. "I just thank my Heavenly Father that they were willing to sacrifice."
Sacrifice and putting others' needs first was a commitment Andrew Ashcraft had made personally to his wife, and he and his crew were used to fulfilling on the fire line in places like Yarnell.
The couple says they've relied wholly on their faith in God over the past year as they and other families have gradually rebuilt their lives.
"I can't just sit and wallow in it. That's just not me," Leah Reason said. "There is still life and it's still good and worthwhile."
"We have to look forward, so we're doing the best we can and enjoying it," Russ Reason said.
The Yarnell Hill Fire seemed to burn in both Yarnell and Prescott long after it was contained as the two communities mourned the devastation. In time, the posters, the T-shirts and the bumper stickers became too common a sight for Juliann Ashcraft and her children.
"As much as it's a beautiful thing to see people remembering them, for us, it's a reminder of the tragedy," she said. "It's everyone's name, and it's Yarnell Hill, and it's a reminder of the day that Andrew died."
Ashcraft and her children have since left Prescott and moved to Queen Creek, Arizona. After Andrew Ashcraft's promise "to hold you," his family has hardly let go.
"There's no less of a reminder of Andrew because we think about him every second of every day," she said. "But it's his life (we think about) and not his death, and that has been very healing for our family."
It's been a year of firsts for the Ashcrafts — a first birthday, a first Christmas, a first Father's Day — all in smaller company. But every day begins and ends with thoughts of eternity, Juliann said.
"Every night when my kids pray, they ask God to give Andrew their hug and kiss for them," she said. "It is an eternal perspective that we have. I would be a fool to say that because I know we'll be together forever that this life is easier."
Juliann is planning to attend law school in preparation for a career that will provide for her family and instill in her children an appreciation for education. The children continue to enjoy playing sports, and the wife and mother says she still feels the man who promised to be their "best friend" and "biggest fan" cheering them on.
"I'm not a single parent," she said. "My children have a dad. They have a wonderful, amazing dad."
The family is participating in a gathering of close friends and family as well as commemorative events this week in Prescott. As the anniversary of an unforgettable loss arrives, Juliann continues to reflect on all that she's gained.
"I think as the year comes to a close, I'm really able to count my blessings and realize how much people have done for our family," she said. "I'm overwhelmed with gratitude. I'm humbled. I'm so appreciative."
And because Andrew Ashcraft's promise "to take you away and be with you" is likely decades away from completion, Juliann is making the most of the time she has to fulfill promises of her own, which she made from a podium at her husband's funeral:
"Your ultimate sacrifice purified me, and so many lessons I've learned. So these promises to you I am making, promises so graciously earned.
"I promise to teach them of their daddy, the greatest man I've ever known. To teach them the values you showed me, and to never leave them alone.
"I promise to love and protect them, tuck them in at night warm and snug. Begin and end each day the same, from Daddy a big kiss and a hug. ...
"I promise that I will be faithful, to our God with whom you now reside, to do all within my power, to ensure my place by your side."
Contributing: Alex Cabrero
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