Clayton Whitted was a brave firefighter who died Sunday, June 30, trying to protect the small Arizona town of Yarnell from the deadly Yarnell Hill Fire. The 28-year-old was a member of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, an elite crew trained to fight wildfires from the ground.
Here’s what you should know about this fallen hero:
1. He Was Married
On February 12, 2011, Clayton Whitted married his wife, Kristi, in Prescott, Arizona. His wife was informed of his passing Sunday night after officials summoned her to a meeting of family and spouses at a local middle school. The New York Times reports that Whitted’s wife was escorted by Bob Hoyt, a pastor at Heights Church.
2. He Got Engaged in a Hot Air Balloon
According to Kristi Whitted’s description of the proposal, her firefighter boyfriend had been planning to do it earlier but was away on a fire. The two of them went on a hot air balloon soon after, where Whitted proposed.
3. He was a Prescott Native
Clayton Whitted was raised in the town where he lived and worked, Prescott, Arizona. According to an article in People, Whitted often worked out on the same athletics campus where he used to play football from 2000 to 2004 for the Prescott Badgers. People quoted the school’s football coach as saying, “He wasn’t a big kid, and many times in the game, he was overpowered by big men, and he still got after it.”
4. He Was a Squad Leader
According to the New York Times, the 28-year-old Whitted had the extra responsibility of holding the special rank of squad leader for the Hotshot crew. Squad leaders manage a group of three to seven firefighters.
5. Only the Most Elite Can Be on a Hotshot Crew
The Hotshots are like the Navy SEALs of firefighters. Inter-agency Hotshot crews are highly-trained groups that specialize in trekking into the wild to confront wildfires — clearing swaths to prevent the spread and growth of the fire by starving it of fuel.
The role of the Hotshot is described as:
The name was in reference to being in the hottest part of fires. Their specialty is wildfire suppression, but they are sometimes assigned other jobs, including search and rescue and disaster response assistance. Hotshots not busy fighting fire will also work to meet resource goals on their home units through thinning, prescribed fire implementation, habitat improvement or trail construction projects.
Crews often need to hike many miles to get to the areas where they will be working, carry all of their supplies on their back, and often work over 12 hours a day.