October 31, 2018 at 5:40 am
Courtesy of Granite Mountain Interagency Hotshot Crew Learning and Tribute Center
It's been more than five years since 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots lost their lives while fighting the Yarnell Hill Fire. Since then, several memorials, including Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial State Park, have been created to honor the fallen firefighters.
In June came the latest addition: the Granite Mountain Interagency Hotshot Crew Learning and Tribute Center, a permanent museum where visitors can honor the hotshots, learn more about the Yarnell Hill Fire and view thousands of items of tribute.
When news broke that the 19 hotshots had died, a massive outpouring of love and support came not only from the community of Yarnell, but from around the world. Thousands of items of tribute — including letters, T-shirts, artwork and other memorabilia — were left along the fence of the crew's Fire Station 7. The items remained along the fence until September 2013, when volunteers formed the Tribute Fence Preservation Project and took the time to carefully remove, catalog and photograph them. Once the more than 9,000 items were cataloged, they were made available to view digitally and then placed in a Prescott building, where they mostly remained in boxes for the next four years.
As the years went by, Prescott community members, volunteers, friends and family of the fallen hotshots felt it was time to put the items on display. In 2017, Diane Clevenger and her husband, Jack, worked with fellow community member Nancy Christie to champion the creation of a tribute center.
“Each year there were smaller and smaller remembrances for the 19,” said Diane Clevenger, who now is a board member at the center. “People started saying, ‘We have to have something in Prescott to commemorate the 19. We need to have a place or something.’”
After dozens of meetings, the museum began to take shape. Clevenger and other newly appointed board members partnered with Prescott to lease a space inside the Prescott Gateway Mall, and on June 29, a day before the fifth anniversary of the tragedy, the Granite Mountain Interagency Hotshot Crew Learning and Tribute Center opened to the public. On the first weekend, nearly 700 people visited.
At the center, visitors can see permanent and temporary exhibits that focus on paying homage to each of the hotshots, wildfire education and memorabilia from the fence at Fire Station 7. Currently, the largest exhibit in the center is “The Shirts Off Their Backs,” curated by Katie Cornelius. The exhibit features a display of 223 of the 1,100 T-shirts that were left on the fence or donated.
Visitors can also see a diary from fallen hotshot Eric Marsh, artwork inspired by the hotshots and created by local artists, and props from Only the Brave, a movie based on the tragedy. The center plans on rotating the items in the exhibits every six to 12 months so that all 9,000 of the items in the collection will eventually be displayed.
“People who visit can take away so much,” Diane Clevenger said. “When you visit, you come away feeling a sense of closeness to each of the 19 and what they did. You come away with an understanding of how many people this impacted in the world. This was not just a little community happening; this was heart-wrenching for everybody in the world. You also come away with new information about how quickly the fire spread. It’s important this center exists so people can remember and so that the 19 will not be forgotten.”
The Granite Mountain Interagency Hotshot Crew Learning and Tribute Center is located inside the Prescott Gateway Mall, at 3250 Gateway Boulevard in Prescott. The Center is open Fridays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. To learn more, visit www.gmihc19.org or the center's Facebook page.
— Emily Balli