Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

19 Perish; 'Everybody Is Just in Disbelief'; in Jacksonville, Shock and Pain over Arizona Wildfire Deaths

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

19 Perish; 'Everybody Is Just in Disbelief'; in Jacksonville, Shock and Pain over Arizona Wildfire Deaths

Article excerpt

Byline: Kate Howard Perry

Wildfires like the one that claimed 19 people this weekend are a constant threat in Prescott, Ariz.

It's caused many young men who grew up in the town to become firefighters there, and it's why Shena Roper is watching her Facebook feed in shock. She went to high school in Prescott. So far, she's learned that she knew one of the fallen firefighters and she fears she will learn of other childhood friends as the names are released.

Andrew Ashcraft, a sweet, fun-loving guy she went to summer camp with, was the first name she saw. Ashcraft leaves a wife and four children.

"Everybody is just in disbelief," said Roper, who works in the circulation department at the Florida Times-Union. "It seems surreal."

Friends and strangers alike are mourning throughout the country after members of the elite Prescott firefighting unit died on the front lines of a 13-square-mile fire in Yarnell, Ariz. in the single biggest loss of firefighters since Sept. 11, 2001.

The loss is felt everywhere in a profession where brotherhood is important, said Randy Wyse, president of the Jacksonville firefighters union.

"To see the number 19 is just shocking," Wyse said. "To lose that many in one fell swoop is pretty devastating to the department. They'll come back from it, but they're going to need a lot of help."

Though Jacksonville's firefighters don't typically serve out west, they fight brush fires frequently and have assisted on major Florida wildfires. The loss in Arizona was a stark reminder that practically any day, they could lose someone to a building fire, hazardous material call or brush fire, Wyse said.

"Any time there's a death in the fire service, firefighters probably go home and go 'Wow, I've been in the same situation,'a" Wyse said. "We've been lucky enough not to lose someone in a brush fire [in Jacksonville] but its an extremely hazardous job."

The firefighters who died were part of a type one, or hotshot, crew that responds to fires with the highest level of complexity. …

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