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Thursday, July 4, 2013
'He just watched his friends die': Brendan's turmoil as sole survivor of fire that killed all the other members of his team hailed by widow
Brendan McDonough, 21, radioed the 19 other members of his Granite Mountain Hotshots crew that the "weather was changing rapidly" and had reached a "trigger point", which was forcing him to leave his position, believed to have been two to three kilometres away.
He told the others to contact him if they needed anything and was trying to get to another vantage point as the dramatic weather shift caused the raging wildfire to blow over and kill all of them, fire officials said.
Mr McDonough's original position was swept by fire less than three minutes after he left it but he was picked up safely by another fire crew. Wade Ward, a spokesman for the Fire Department in Prescott, Arizona, said: "He was doing exactly what he was supposed to do. He left his post based on protocol, and he was moving to a new position. He was doing his job and the Hotshot crew was doing their job. This is why they call this kind of thing an accident."
He said Mr McDonough was physically unharmed but struggling emotionally, adding: "He just watched his friends die."
Juliann Ashcraft, who lost her husband Andrew, 29, in the blaze, said she hoped Mr McDonough, who has a young daughter, "knows we love him and we are so grateful he made it home".
"The first time I saw him after the fire, I gave him a big hug and he still smelled like the fire, the same way my husband would smell when he'd come home," she said. "He's just a great guy and I'm so glad that his outcome was different. He deserves to have a good life with his daughter."
In a statement Mr McDonough, who was in his third wildfire season with the crew, paid tribute to his "fallen brothers" and expressed thanks for the "outpouring of support". He was comforted by the families of the dead and other firemen at a candlelit vigil attended by 4000 people in Prescott.
The Granite Mountain Hotshots were well-equipped and specialised in clearing out brush to stop fires spreading. At the time of the tragedy, a thunderstorm caused the wind to blow "every which way", according to one fire official.
As a last resort the men, trapped between two walls of flame, covered themselves in heat-resistant sheeting and lay on the ground. Forest managers and safety experts have begun investigating the tragedy, which has raised questions over whether the crew should have been withdrawn from the area earlier.