As much of the country takes time to relax and celebrate the holiday weekend, the town of Yarnell, Ariz., is still a community in mourning.
“People’s worlds have been turned upside down,” said Billy Graham Rapid Response Team chaplain Kelly Burke. “You can see the tears and the emotion and the pain on people’s faces. Everybody knew somebody.”
On Sunday, June 30, as the Yarnell Hill wildfire blazed 30 miles southeast of Prescott, the Granite Mountain Hotshots were on the front lines working to contain it. When the fire overtook them, 19 members of the 20-man crew lost their lives.
As news of the tragedy broke, the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team deployed a group of chaplains to Yarnell to offer emotional and spiritual care to the community. Every chaplain who deployed to Arizona has a police or fire background.
Since their arrival, the chaplains have been available to comfort and listen to those who are grieving, including community leaders and first responders still battling the fire as they mourn the loss of their peers.
“I met with the emergency manager,” said Burke. “He said, ‘We’re not just working an emergency management event. This is personal. We knew these guys. We loved these guys.’ ”
The Rapid Response Team has had a quiet presence at community prayer vigils in the area. There, the chaplains have found opportunities to speak and pray with people who are trying to make sense of what happened.
“There was a young lady that we met at the prayer vigil,” said Burke. “She saw us and approached us. She had a photograph and a memorial candle in her hand. When we made eye contact … I just knew.”
Burke wasn’t sure what her connection was to the fallen firefighters–he just knew she had one.
And he knew she was hurting. The chaplains, along with a local pastor’s wife, listened to her story. She told them she had been in the developing stages of a relationship with one of the firefighters who was killed.
“Life’s supposed to be all about the future and promise,” said Burke. “She had this future and this promise of a relationship, and now he’s gone.”
The little group rallied around her. They cried and prayed. After the vigil, she needed help finding the memorial site in a different part of town, so the chaplains led her there to pay her respects.
Burke doesn’t think it’s the last time they’ll see her.
“The Lord’s doing something in her life,” he said. “We all need Him.”
The chaplains have had several opportunities to minister at the memorial site, which sees continuous traffic from first responders, family members of the firefighters who lost their life, as well as well as people in the community.
“We try to respect people’s space and allow them to have their moments, but we also try to make it very clear that there is a resource available if they want it,” said Burke.
The chaplains deployed to Yarnell from their homes in Florida, Colorado, New Mexico and California. They cancelled their Independence Day plans and left their families behind in order to minister, and were happy to do so.
“We know what the Lord has meant to us,” said Burke. “I love my family, and I miss them. I love the holidays and all that, but we’ve got eternity to rest.”
He may miss out on some fireworks and family time, but Burke knows God has him right where he’s supposed to be–with people who are hurting.
People who need hope.
“To be there on that holy ground when God does reach down from heaven–even through a knucklehead like me–to make a connection with somebody, there’s nothing better,” Burke said. “It’s a privilege and a joy to get to do it.”
Help Support a Chaplain
You can play a part in bringing the love of Christ shown by the RRT chaplains to hurting people. Please give today and help us send the Rapid Response Team when the next disaster strikes.