HEMET – A Hemet native who was among the 19 firefighters killed while battling a raging wildfire near Yarnell, Ariz., was remembered today during a memorial service expected to draw hundreds.
Chris MacKenzie, 30, died June 30 when a wall of flames overwhelmed him and other members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots.
A memorial service was held tonight at the Ramona Bowl Amphitheater, just south of Hemet. Family, friends, colleagues, political figures and representatives from a variety of public safety agencies were on hand to pay their final respects.
MacKenzie’s remains were returned from Yavapai County, along with those of fellow hotshot and Seal Beach native Kevin Woyjeck, aboard a C-130 military transport Wednesday.
A day earlier, a public memorial service was held for all of the fallen firefighters in Prescott Valley, Ariz., for which thousands turned out.
MacKenzie’s fellow hotshot and 2005 Hemet High School graduate Billy Warneke was laid to rest Wednesday in Marana, Ariz.
The crew perished while trying to get containment lines around the Yarnell brush fire, which ignited at a business just off state Route 89, a highway that leads north into the mile-high city of Prescott, where the hotshots were based.
According to authorities, the men’s bodies were found on a hillside by an Arizona Department of Public Safety helicopter crew. Some of the firefighters had taken cover in protective tents they apparently deployed in a last-ditch effort to escape a tide of flames.
There are about 100 hotshot crews based throughout the U.S. They are considered elite for their skills and ability to work fires under the most rugged and hazardous conditions.
The loss was the worst wildland firefighting tragedy since the 1933 Griffith Park Fire in Los Angeles, during which 29 firefighters were killed, and the most firefighters killed since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
MacKenzie began his career as a seasonal firefighter with the U.S. Forest Service, and served on the Tahquitz crew in the San Jacinto National Forest.
He went on to join a helicopter firefighting crew deployed by the Bureau of Land Management and joined the Mill Creek hotshots in the San Bernardino National Forest.
He was invited to apply to the Granite Mountain Hotshots by Aaron Stevens, one of his former captains, and had just started his third season as a full-time employee with the Prescott Fire Department as a lead crew member, according to Cal Fire.
MacKenzie is survived by his mother Lauri Goralski, father and retired Cal Fire Captain Michael MacKenzie, brother Aaron MacKenzie, stepmother Janice MacKenzie and stepsisters Janae Gier and Jill Allison.
To make donations to the MacKenzie family, email [email protected] CNS-07-13-2013 21:35