Marana resident William "Billy" Warneke - one of the 19 firefighters killed Sunday in the Yarnell Hill Fire - "died doing what he wanted to do."
"Billy loved nature. He wanted to be a firefighter and work to stop fires from spreading," said his grandmother, Nancy Warneke of San Jacinto, Calif., in a telephone interview Monday night.
"We are all so sad about what happened, but he died doing what he wanted to do. I find comfort in that," she said.
Warneke, 25, lived with his wife, Roxanne, on acreage in a rural setting. "They just moved out there in April after buying land and a mobile home," the grandmother said.
"They planned on fixing it up and getting animals, and planting a garden," she said, explaining that Billy followed Roxanne from Hemet, Calif. to Tucson after he was discharged from the Marine Corps.
The two were married Dec. 30, 2008 at the county courthouse in downtown Tucson. "They made such a beautiful couple," said Nancy Warneke. "Roxanne is so sweet and beautiful. Roxanne is expecting their first child in December."
Warneke was a four-year Marine veteran who served a tour in Iraq and had joined the hotshot firefighting crew in April, said Nancy Warneke.
"He was so excited. Since he was a boy, he and his brother played firefighters. They had a toy fire extinguisher and a long rope they used to climb our old elm tree to put out a 'fire,' " she recalled with a slight laugh.
She said her grandson used the GI bill to attend Pima Community College.
PCC officials said Warneke earned an associate's of applied science degree in fire science in 2012.
Capt. Dan Klement, of North Tucson Firefighters Association, said in a news release: "It is with deep sadness that we announce the line of duty death of wildland firefighter Bill Warneke.
"Bill was a first year member of the elite Granite Mountain Hotshot crew based out of Prescott.
"Roxanne is currently in the comfort of her family members," Klement wrote.
He said the family asks the community to respect "their wishes to grieve privately."
"They also wish to express their gratitude for all the prayers and kindness throughout the community," Klement added.
The Warneke family is being assisted by local firefighters along with chief officers of the Prescott Fire Department.
Nancy Warneke said her grandson grew up in Hemet, and later met Christopher MacKenzie, 30, of Hemet, a fellow hotshot who also died.
Nancy said her sister, with whom Billy was living in Prescott, called her Sunday to give her the news.
"She said, 'He's gone. They're all gone.'"
Another of the 19 fallen firefighters also had ties to Tucson. Garret Zuppiger, 27, received an Arizona general education curriculum-arts degree in liberal arts in 2006 from Pima Community College, the school said Monday. No other information about Zuppiger was immediately available.
Contact reporter Carmen Duarte at email@example.com or at 573-4104.