5th 'Hotshot' killed in Ariz. fire had Southern California ties

63962 full

Update 1:26 p.m. A fifth member of the Granite Mountain Hotshots has been identified as having Southern California roots.

Grant McKee, 21, was the fifth Southern California native to be discovered among the 19 fallen firefighters this Sunday, and the second from Orange County. McKee attended Newport Harbor High School until 11th grade, Director of Communications for Newport Mesa Unified School District Laura Boss wrote in an email.

“Our deepest sympathy and prayers go out to Grant’s family and friends during this tragic time of loss,” she said.

Mary Hoffman, McKee’s grandmother, lost two grandsons in the Yarnell fire this weekend. McKee had received a job with the Hotshots through his cousin, Robert Caldwell, who also died in the fire, the Associated Press reported.

McKee’s mother told AP that he had been planning on working with the Hotshots for only this summer, and that he was ultimately training to be an emergency medical technician.

Madhu Srikantha 

Previously: Nineteen members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, based in Prescott, Ariz., were killed Sunday when a windblown wildfire overtook them north of Phoenix. It was the deadliest single day for U.S. firefighters since Sept. 11. Fourteen of the victims were in their 20s. Four were from California. 

Among them was 21-year-old Kevin Woyjeck. Tom Schultz remembers having Woyjeck in his firefighting class at Santa Ana College. 

"I remember Kevin being a young, energetic, enthusiastic student," says Schultz, who said Woyjeck was full of questions and highly focused.

"Not every class has a student like that but you could see the fire in his eyes, to make pun on a word there," says Schultz. "But you could see his desire to go out there and do this. It was a calling for him for sure."

As a teenager, Woyjeck joined the L.A. County Fire Department Explorers, a volunteer group of young people interested in the field. He helped around the station, he shadowed the pros, and he even went out on a few calls.

Firefighter Mike Park was a mentor with the program. He says it was obvious Woyjeck's ambition came from his father, L.A. County Fire Captain Joe Woyjeck. Park says the younger Woyjeck really looked up to his dad.

"I remember the first time seeing him and his dad on a call together. [It] was pretty cool. I walked up to Kevin and he had this big old smile on his face. And I said hey - I was kinda kidding around with him. [I] said, what are you smiling about, new guy?"

Parks says Kevin Woyjeck quickly worked his way up from an Explorer to an EMT to finally the hotshot crew.

Another member of that crew, Chris MacKenzie, also had a firefighter dad.

MacKenzie grew up in Hemet. His high school friend, Alan Borders, says he doesn't remember MacKenzie wanting to follow in his father's footsteps, but he recalls that his friend loved helping others.

When Borders joined the high school football team his senior year, he says the more-experienced MacKenzie was his rock.

"Chris was always there to encourage me not to give up, not to quit," says Borders. "Never playing football a day in my life it was a little bit difficult. But Chris being a senior veteran on the team, he always encouraged people to do their best."

Borders says because of his upbeat attitude, MacKenzie made friends easily. He liked to skate, he played the trumpet and Borders says he exemplified the idea of service over self.

"On the football field he protected the quarterback being the lineman. But in real life he protected other people's homes and other people's property by being a firefighter. And if I could I would just thank him for it," says Borders.

MacKenzie joined the U.S. Forest Service in 2004, then transferred two years ago to the Prescott Fire Department, longtime friend Dav Fulford-Brown told The Riverside Press-Enterprise. He was 30 years old when he died on Sunday.

Hemet lost a second native son in 25-year-old Billy Warneke. His grandmother, Nancy Warneke, says even as a kid he loved playing with fire trucks. When he grew up he joined the Marines and spent time in Iraq. Then, after serving four years, he trained to fight fires.

"This Hotshot Crew he was on was his first assignment," says Nancy Warneke. "So it's sad for him in a way that it turned out the way that it did. But he died knowing he was doing a lot of good. And he loved being out of doors and I know he gave it his all, as much as he could."

Nancy Warneke says Billy recently bought land in Arizona and was planning on raising a family there. His wife Roxy is three months pregnant.

The fourth Californian to die in the fire was 26-year-old Sean Misner. He hailed from Santa Ynez, in Santa Barbara County. A versatile athlete, he was on his high school's football and track teams. On top of that he served in the school's sports medicine program - that's where he learned first aid skills that would later serve him as a firefighter.

Misner leaves behind his wife Amanda. The two were also expecting a child - a boy they planned to name Jaxon.

Related: Four firefighters with SoCal roots were among 19 killed in Arizona wildfire

Here are the stories of some of the other firefighters who died on Sunday:

SCOTT NORRIS: THE 'IDEAL AMERICAN GENTELMAN'

Scott Norris, 28, was known around Prescott through his part-time job at Bucky O'Neill Guns.

"Here in Arizona the gun shops are a lot like barbershops. Sometimes you don't go in there to buy anything at all, you just go to talk," said resident William O'Hara. "I never heard a dirty word out of the guy. He was the kind of guy who if he dated your daughter, you'd be OK with it.

"He was just a model of a young, ideal American gentleman."

O'Hara's son Ryan, 19, said Norris' life and tragic death had inspired him to live a more meaningful life.

"He was a loving guy. He loved life. And I've been guilty of not looking as happy as I should, and letting things get to me, and Scott wasn't like that at all."

ANDREW ASHCRAFT: AN ATHLETIC, GO-GETTER

Prescott High School physical education teacher and coach Lou Beneitone taught many of the Hotshots, and remembered 29-year-old Andrew Ashcraft as a fitness-oriented student.

"He had some athletic ability in him and he was a go-getter, too. You could pretty much see, from young freshman all the way, he was going to be physically active."

Beneitone said athletic prowess was a must for the Hotshots. "That's what it takes. You gotta be very physically fit, and you gotta like it, gotta like the hard work."

CLAYTON WHITTED: HE'D 'LIGHT IT UP'

Full of heart and determination, Clayton Whitted, 28, might not have been the biggest guy around, but he was among the hardest-working. His former Prescott High School coach, Lou Beneitone, said Whitted was a "wonderful kid" who always had a big smile on his face. Whitted played for the football team as an offensive and defensive lineman.

"He was a smart young man with a great personality, just a wonderful personality," said Beneitone. "When he walked into a room, he could really light it up."

Beneitone said Whitted loved being a firefighter and was well-respected among his crew. He says he ran into Whitted about two months ago and they shook hands and hugged, and talked about the upcoming fire season.

"I told him to be careful," Beneitone said.

The other firefighters who died fighting the Arizona wildfire were:

Anthony Rose, 23

Eric Marsh, 43

Robert Caldwell, 23

Dustin Deford, 24

Garret Zuppiger, 27

Travis Carter, 31

Grant McKee, 21

Travis Turbyfill, 27

Jesse Steed, 36

Wade Parker, 22

Joe Thurston, 32

John Percin, 24

This story has been updated.

With contributions by Wires and Madhu Srikantha

blog comments powered by Disqus