Michael Nelson / EPA
The surviving member of the Granite Hill Hotshot crew, Brendan McDonough hugs a family member of the victims during a candle light vigil and remembrance for the 19 firefighter victims of the Yarnell Hill Fire at Prescott High School in Prescott, Arizona on Tuesday.
The lone survivor of a 20-member elite crew deployed to fight a wildfire in Arizona was doing exactly what he was supposed to be doing, officials said Tuesday as the blaze was partly contained for the first time.
Brendan McDonough was in his third season with the Granite Mountain Hotshots and at his post as a "lookout" on Sunday when the fire got too close to him and he realized he needed to move to a different location, said Wade Ward, the information officer for the City of Prescott, Ariz.
“He left his post based on protocol and he was moving to a new position ... this gentleman was doing his job and the hotshot crew was doing their job,” said Ward, explaining that McDonough followed procedure when relocating.
The last step McDonough had to complete before he left the vantage point on a hillside was to radio the crew to tell them to contact him if they needed anything.
"That was the last communication," Ward added.
Ward requested that McDonough be granted privacy – a plea that was met with an eruption of applause by community members at the briefing.
“Give him some time ... it’s going to take weeks if not longer," Ward said. "He's trying to deal with the same things that we’re trying to deal with ... compounded by being there on the scene.”
It came as firefighters made progress for the first time against the sprawling blaze.
While the blaze remained dangerous and unpredictable, it was no longer raging out of control late Tuesday. By sundown, firefighters had managed to achieve the first measure of containment around its perimeter - eight percent, according to officials.
"Crews are making good progress on the fire ... We're feeling optimistic right now," said Carrie Dennett, a spokeswoman for the Arizona Forestry Division.
Ignited on Friday by lightning, the blaze has blackened some 8,400 acres of dense, tinder-dry chaparral, oak scrub and grasslands as it roared largely unchecked in its first four days.
Bob Orrill, a member of the southwest incident management team, read a statement from McDonough, which expressed his appreciation for his "fallen brothers."
First published July 2 2013, 7:02 PM