Tributes to fallen firefighters grace fence; local hero remembered

Tributes to fallen firefighters grace fence; local hero remembered

PRESCOTT, Ariz. – Friends of the West Linn man who died fighting a wildfire just over a week ago remembered him as "generous, brave" and an "all around good guy" Monday.

They say John Percin Jr. had recovered from a drug and alcohol addiction and had already fought his battle and won. And by the age of 24 he’d straightened himself out and gotten a job washing dishes to earn enough money to put himself through the Arizona Wildfire Academy. Then he landed the job he seemed destined for as a Granite Mountain Hotshot.

"You could just see the happiness in his soul through his eyes, like he was proud," said Mike Jones, Percin's friend and counselor. "He knew his family was proud. All that hard work he put in, he finally did. He finally lived his dream. (He did) exactly what he wanted to do – out there protecting all of us."

The Yarnell Hill Fire was only the second wild-land fire Percin fought. He died June 30 when the winds shifted, trapping him and 18 fellow Hotshots.

His friends say they keep imagining his last moments and they're sure the last thing Percin must have been thinking as he deployed his fire shelter was, "I hope my buddies make it."

On a chain-link fence Monday, outside the fire station where Percin and other Hotshots worked, there was hardly any room left on it.

American flags, t-shirts paying tribute to firefighters, flowers and notes graced the fence. One note said, "Dear sacred 19, All we can offer for now is our endless love."

Nearly everyone who stopped by the fence left in tears.

Bob Weber never knew any of the Hotshots who died. He doesn't live in the town they lost their lives saving. But he just had to come here.

"I'm a 100 percent disabled veteran and these guys deserve all the respect of every soldier that ever lived," he said.

Weber lost his grandson in Iraq six years ago.

"It can't even begin to compare with what's happened to this community," he said.

Weber works as a volunteer dispatcher in a small town a few hours away. He knows what the Hotshots faced every day and he can't help but think about their final moments.

"I can't imagine what it would have been like for the dispatcher here to take this call. I just can't. I just can't – 19 men all in one shot," he said tearfully.
 
The flowers, notes and t-shirts came from places all around the world. It was overwhelming for Kevin and Christine Shelton, who drove about 100 miles, to say a simple "thank you."

"You just never know when it's going to be something that can affect you," Kevin said. "These are the guys who show up."

"They did the best job they could possibly do, and we're very grateful for everything they did," Christine said.

The community is numb – still stunned by what happened 32 miles from here. And questions remain into how a routine afternoon of cutting fire lines turned into the deadliest day for wilderness firefighters in 80 years. The investigation will take months.

Firefighters, family and friends from all over the country are boarding buses and planes, heading here to pay tribute to their fallen colleagues during a big memorial scheduled for Tuesday. About 30,000 people are expected. The venue only seats 5,000.