Lone Yarnell, Ariz. fire survivor speaks out

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September 1, 2013, 8:22 am
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(NECN/KPNX: Kevin Kennedy, Prescott, Ariz.) - On June 30, 2013, on a mountain above Yarnell, calm turned to chaos and usual became the unimaginable.

"For rest life it's something I'm going to have to live with, so I've got to learn to think about it and be able to talk about it," said Brendan McDunnough, the lone survivor of the Yarnell fire that killed 19 firefighters.

It's a day he can't forget. A day filled with questions. One that began like so many others.

"I not have eerie feeling anything like that - just normal day on the fire," said McDunnough.

Early that day, McDonough and 19 other hotshots were sent to the fire. At first small and simple, the wind light almost calm, the flames laying down.

McDunnough's role that day was to lookout and keep an eye on the fire and the often volatile conditions. Within minutes, the fire went from tame to uncontrollable.

The crew high up on the ridge, McDunnough down below. Around 3:30 in the afternoon before he retreated, there was one last call to his brothers.

"It was like need anything, let me know if not see you later," said McDunnough.

With heavy winds and a dry brush fueling the fire, flames marched across the mountain. McDunnough escaped, but his guys were still in danger.

"I hate talking about it, but these things go through your mind," said McDunnough. "I just prayed for their safety, for a safe return home."

After about an hour, a call came over the radio. It was Eric Marsh. The crew was surrounded by flames, they made one last stand.
Minutes felt like hours as McDunnough waited for the fire front to pass. How were his guys? What happened? He listened for updates on a fire radio.

"With the way they talk on the radio, you can tell from their tone of voice," said McDunnough.

All 19 of his friends were killed - he was the only survivor. That night, he met with their families.

Two months have passed since the fire. McDunnough has been back to the mountain where his brothers were killed.

"A lot is still fuzzy and part of that is turning the page and clarifying what I do know and what I don't know. And understanding that there is a reason why I don't know certain things," said McDunnough.

There is one piece to this horrible puzzle, one question McDunnough doesn't care about. Why? Why him? Why them? Why did they go down that ridge?

Some questions don't have answers, only triggering more questions. McDunnough will never know why. That answer was lost on the mountain along with his 19 brothers - 19 men who were heroes long before they died.

Tags: firefighter, Kevin Kennedy, Yarnell Fire, arizona fire, Brendan McDunnough, hotshot
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