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PRESCOTT, Ariz. (AP) — More than 1,000 people turned out Monday to a Prescott gymnasium to honor the bravery and sacrifice of 19 Hotshot firefighters who died battling a wildfire in Arizona.
Those in the crowd rocked children in their arms, wiped away tears and applauded robustly after each set of remarks, often rising to their feet. Speakers at the memorial quoted heavily from scripture and described the firefighters' deaths as Christ-like.
U.S. Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., said the Hotshots laid down their lives not only for their friends and loved ones, but for people they didn't even know.
The men died Sunday after the blaze they were battling near the small town of Yarnell, about 85 miles northwest of Phoenix, exploded tenfold in a matter of hours, trapping them.
Authorities say the tragedy all but wiped out the 20-member Granite Mountain Hotshots, a Prescott-based unit.
Prescott Fire Chief Dan Fraijo spoke in a shaky voice and paused frequently as he described throwing a picnic a month ago for his new recruits and meeting their families.
"About five hours ago, I met those same families at an auditorium," he said during the service, held at the campus of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. "Those families lost. The Prescott Fire Department lost. The city of Prescott lost. The state of Arizona and the nation lost."
At the end of the ceremony, dozens of wildfire fighters sporting Hotshot shirts and uniforms from other jurisdictions marched down from the top of the bleachers to the front of the gym auditorium, their heavy work boots drumming a march on the wooden steps.
The firefighters bowed their heads for a moment of silence in memory of their fallen comrades as slides bearing each man's name and age were projected behind them.
The 19 killed were Andrew Ashcraft, 29; Kevin Woyjeck, 21; Anthony Rose, 23; Eric Marsh, 43; Christopher MacKenzie, 30; Robert Caldwell, 23; Clayton Whitted , 28; Scott Norris, 28; Dustin Deford, 24; Sean Misner, 26; Garret Zuppiger, 27; Travis Carter, 31; Grant McKee, 21; Travis Turbyfill, 27; Jesse Steed, 36; Wade Parker, 22; Joe Thurston, 32; William Warneke, 25; and John Percin, 24.