PHOENIX — The surviving member of a firefighting crew that lost 19 members to the Yarnell Hill Fire says he was devastated and went “numb” after learning that men he considered his brothers were dead, and he wonders why he alone was spared.
Brendan McDonough was the Granite Mountain Hotshots’ lookout on June 30 and wasn’t with the rest of the crew when it was overtaken by shifting flames after he had to leave his own position.
He learned of his fellow Hotshots’ deaths while back with his crew’s vehicles after hitching a ride with another Hotshot crew, McDonough told ABC’s “Good Morning America” in an interview aired Wednesday.
“Why wasn’t I there with them?” McDonough said he asked himself. “That’s all I could think, to pray for their safety. ... I’m kind of numb at that point. I’d cried a lot. And I came to a point where I just didn’t have any more tears.”
A state police paramedic confirmed the deaths and reported them by radio after being dropped off by a helicopter and hiking to the deployment site when fire managers couldn’t contact the crew.
McDonough, 21, said his emotions plunged further as he heard the ringing phones that other firefighters had left in one of the crew vehicles.
McDonough said he knew the calls were from family members trying to reach their loved ones.
“And that’s — yeah. I sunk. Sunk into my seat, I sunk into myself,” he said.
McDonough said he has asked himself “a million times” why he survived and his fellow Hotshots didn’t: “Why aren’t they sitting here with me?”
His time with the crew was both the best and worst memories of his life, McDonough said.
He closed the ABC interview by saying he missed his “brothers.”