PRESCOTT VALLEY, Ariz. — The 19 firefighters were mourned slowly, as if those who knew them wanted to relive each memory before it, too, was gone for good.
Over the parched mountains from where the Granite Mountain Hotshots died June 30 while battling what became the deadliest wildfire since the 1930s, thousands of firefighters and family members packed an arena Tuesday for a two-hour memorial to honor their bravery.
Hundreds of others watched outside on giant screens as firefighters and politicians told stories of the men, recalling the firefighting brotherhood that bound them.
"I don't have the privilege of knowing any of these heroes personally, but I know them," Vice President Joe Biden said at the memorial. "I know them because they saved the lives of my two sons when a tractor-trailer broadsided my daughter, my wife and my two sons."
"My wife and daughter died. They saved my guys," Biden continued. "There's an old saying: All men are created equal, and then a few became firefighters. Thank God for you all."
Darrell Willis, the chief of the Prescott Fire Department's wilderness fire division, said, "Each of them was my adopted son. I loved them, their hearts. I saw joy in the each of them when they were doing their jobs."
"I would have followed them blindfolded into every place they were at," Willis said.
The service was the latest ceremony in a week of grieving for the firefighters, the most killed in a single episode since Sept. 11. For the past few days, firefighters from around the country have poured into Prescott to pay their respects.
At the close of Tuesday's memorial, moments before a solitary bell sounded the final alarm for the 19 fallen firefighters, Brendan McDonough, the only one of his crew who survived the fire, recited the Hotshot's Prayer.
"For if this day on the line, I should answer death's call," McDonough read. "Lord, bless my Hotshot crew, my family, one and all."