Memorial fence honored firefighters

PRESCOTT, Ariz. — Dusty boots, weathered flowers, boxes of stuffed animals, hundreds of American flags and T-shirts off the backs of firefighters from around the country: The chain-link fence surrounding the former fire station of the Granite Mountain Hotshots became a massive memorial in the days and weeks after 19 of them died a year ago in northern Arizona.

Children entrusted toy fire trucks to watch over their teddy bears, strangers hung up prayers, and the community wept for the firefighters they honored as heroes.

The memorial fence was dismantled in September, and volunteers worked for months to meticulously sort, photograph and catalog the items before storing them away on shelves. They are being displayed in a virtual museum.

Artists reflected the Hotshots’ deaths in paintings, songs, and poems. Others left foot powder, mugs, rosaries, crosses and candles. One person who was part of a Hotshot crew in 1974 sent a broken shovel — something Hotshots would do when someone wasn’t coming back the next year, said Katie Cornelius, who led the cataloguing of items.

“It didn’t matter what your abilities were or your economic situation, you brought what you could,” she said.

The fence inspired a play, and part of it was re-created for an exhibit at a Prescott hotel as part of the events marking the one-year anniversary of the Hotshots’ deaths on Monday.

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