Andrea Sponseller: Remembering Hotshots

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Dear Steamboat/Hayden/Craig,

I have been fortunate enough to call the Yampa Valley home for the last seven winters (and a handful of summers). Like you, I have a deep appreciation for its picturesque landscape, its overwhelmingly welcoming and diverse community and the endless recreational opportunities it offers.   

With this being said, I would like to ask you to recall what you were doing on June 30. Maybe you had been tubing the Yampa, prepping for a July Fourth party, camping in the Zirkel Wilderness, watching a movie or even going to church. That morning, 20 of my brothers were hiking in to attack a fire in Yarnell, Ariz., as they had done many times before. At approximately 4:45 p.m. (Arizona time), 19 of them tragically were taken from their Prescott, Ariz., community.

Collectively, these men were known as the Granite Mountain Hotshots. Originating from the Prescott Arizona Fire Department, they were the first municipally owned hotshot crew in the country. As a member of Interagency Hotshot Community, they worked alongside federal, municipal and state crews. Among the crew’s core values was the importance of integrity, being “nice” and “to be rather than to seem.”

In summer 2009, after a long, cold winter of running Routt County Road 44 in snowstorms and hiking up Emerald Mountain with a backpack, I was given the opportunity to call myself a Granite Mountain Hotshot as well. That summer proved to have been one of the hardest, most influential summers of my life. If you’ve ever heard the saying, “you never know anyone until you’ve lived with them,” I would counter that quote by saying “you never know anyone until you’ve camped with them.” Those men shared some of the best-worst-funniest-hardest moments of my life with me. They were there to help me push myself to go farther, harder and laugh even louder than I ever imagined I could. For these reasons, all of my Granite Mountain brothers and sisters will forever have a special place in my heart. 

In Steamboat, sometimes I feel that we are so lucky to be geographically isolated. We are just separated enough from “the city” to feel as though we live in our own blissful microclimate. What happened in Prescott that day seems so distant, but Granite Mountain Hotshots came to the Craig/Maybell area two years ago on a fire assignment. They helped keep our area safe, and if called upon again, I know they wouldn’t have hesitated to put themselves between our community and the flames.

My heart breaks for the families and significant others of these men. My heart is heavy for the uphill battle the families have in the mediation processes and legal protocols that they are currently struggling through. Their lives will be forever impacted. 

It has taken me five weeks and 10 days to get the courage to address this community that I have grown to love and to ask for assistance. Nineteen families and one survivor need our help. I’m not sure how I can help, but this is me attempting to do so. Monetary donations to the families may be made to the Wildland Firefighter Foundation. I’d imagine that many families also may be looking to get away from Prescott for a bit. With Steamboat being a vacation destination is there any way we can help them heal? What I imagine is hosting a getaway for the individual families at our many hotels/condos/timeshares. It would be incredible if we also could include various activities. such as riding the gondola, fishing, taking their children to the candy store or anything we as a community can do to offer to help them get their mind off of their current hardships. If you have any suggestions, I would love to hear from you.

We are a caring, fun-loving, hard working and reflective community of professionals, so please help my brothers and sisters. Please join me at “Steamboat Loves Granite Mountain” on Facebook, or email me at steamboatlovesgranitemountain@gmail.com. 

Andrea Sponseller

Steamboat Springs

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