Hotshots killed in Ariz. fire remembered, mourned

Tuesday - 7/2/2013, 12:37pm EDT

Unidentified members of the Granite Mountain Interagency Hotshot Crew from Prescott, Ariz., pose together in this undated photo provided by the City of Prescott. Some of the men in this photograph were among the 19 firefighters killed while battling an out-of-control wildfire near Yarnell, Ariz., on Sunday, June 30, 2013, according to Prescott Fire Chief Dan Fraijo. It was the nation's biggest loss of firefighters in a wildfire in 80 years. (AP Photo/City of Prescott)

The Associated Press

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

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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," Elise Smith, a Prescott resident, told The Deseret News of Salt Lake City.

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

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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, 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, was also a Hotshots member and also was killed on Sunday.

"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," she said.

Mary Hoffmann was grandmother to both boys.

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

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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 out of 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 five-mile run during wilderness training, then he made them go to Captain Crossfit in the afternoon for another really 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.

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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.

"We've got enough food in the house to last a year," he said.

DeFord graduated from Cornerstone Bible Institute in Hot Springs, S.D., three years ago, his father said, and always believed God was his guiding force.

On his Facebook page last year, he talked about wanting to find work in western Montana, but God instead moved him to Arizona. Immediately he worked to improve his skills on the climbing wall at a gym near the firehouse.

"He listened very well. He was very respectful," said Tony Burris, a trainer at Captain Crossfit. "He kind of had a dry sense of humor."

Another trainer, Janine Pereira, echoed that sentiment.

"You would say something to him, and he would respond with a crack, which was funny because he was so shy," she said.

DeFord is survived by nine brothers and sisters, including a Marine Corps staff sergeant who is traveling home from Afghanistan, an older brother who is fighting fire with a helicopter team in New Mexico and a younger brother on a Hotshot crew in Alaska.

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