With her husband's framed shirts, photos and patches behind her in the house they shared until Sunday, the widow of Granite Mountain Interagency Hotshot firefighter Andrew Ashcraft talked about how she'd spent Sunday at church and swimming with the couple's four small children, sharing the day with Andrew via text and photos as he fought the increasingly dangerous Yarnell Hill fire.
Her voice wavered and her mouth quivered, but Juliann, her eyes red from earlier crying, remained poised while talking to Savannah Guthrie on the "Today Show."
Photos of the couple and their children, three boys and a girl all younger than 6, flashed across the screen throughout the interview, showing an attractive, playful family in coordinated picture-day outfits.
When Guthrie opened by asking how she was doing, Juliann was pragmatic.
"Well, it's a sad day. But we're hanging in there. We have a lot of support from the community. A lot of support from the other wives who are going through the same thing. And, we're doing the best we can, one day at a time."
When asked what Juliann would want people to know about Andrew, she paused momentarily, closing her eyes and shaking her head. Once collected, she showed how thoughtfully she'd prepared for this interview, which occurred less than 48 hours after her husband's death.
She said she didn't want people to only know about Andrew, but about all the men he lived, worked and died with.
"Not just him, all the 19 men that lost their lives. Of course, I'm partial and I love dearly and I miss dearly my husband and the father of my children. He was the most amazing man, best person I know, a contagious smile, a heart of gold, (voice wavering) that's why he chose to do what he did and work where he worked, because he wanted to protect the community that he lived in and loved.
"And the 19 men, all of them, they really bonded together. And I want people to know, that in our time of mourning we want people to know that they were heroes, that they are heroes. They were heroes in our homes, that they were heroes in our community, that they were heroes to the people that they helped there. And our kids will remember them as heroes as well."
Speaking of her children, she managed a small smile, showing her dimples, a trait she shared with her husband. When Guthrie mentioned that Andrew had been Rookie of the Year on the fire crew in 2011, Juliann smiled and explained how much his work meant to him.
"It was everything to him. Outside of the love he shared for family members, he... hotshot firefighting was his life. And he had his priorities in line, but when he was there, he would tell me, 'They say jump, and I say how high?' Their main goal was to save lives. And it's a blessing that it came on the tail end of the Doce Fire where so many victorious things were done by the Granite Mountain Hotshots and, our community was so proud of them and we are still so proud of them."
As she continued, her composure broke slightly while describing the men's commitment to each other and their work.
"And, it means everything, the way people have reached out, (voice wavering) and they loved what they did. These men worked together, they lived together, they fought fires together and they died together doing what they loved."
The couple had been in touch all day via text and Juliann described, in detail, what they had shared: for her, the casual details of a day spent with the kids and for him, the drama of the fire line.
"We had a series of, of text messages throughout that morning and he let me know that they had been assigned to the fire in Yarnell and Peeple's Valley. At that point that they were focusing more on Peeple's Valley.
"He just let us know that he loved us and that he missed us already, which was a common thing for him to do when he would go on a fire. 'Cause the dangers of the job, you just... he always would tell us he loved us.
"He got to the fire and I had gone to church with our four children, and our oldest son gave a talk in church this past Sunday, that he was sad that he missed. So he had messaged me, told me to let him know that he was proud of him.
"He said, along those same lines, that he was missing our family and that for whatever reason, that this fire was wild. That he said it looked like Peeple's Valley was staring to burn. And, obviously, the goal is for them to avoid any sort of structures on fire. And it was, it was wild, he said.
"And I sent him pictures of what we were doing, and the kids swimming and he sent me a photo back of where he was sitting and what the fire looked like for them, from their lunch spot. And it still did not look as catastrophic as it, as it turned out to be. But it was interesting, to have that perspective, to know what life was like for him on the fire lines and what he risked, day in and day out.
"And, um, he got back to me after he got our pictures and just said, 'I wish I was in a swimming pool,' he also followed it up, when I told him, through our text messages, that our daughter had been saying, when she was watching the thunderstorm, she said, 'Mommy, Daddy really needs to see this.'
"And I let him know via text message that she had said that. And he said, 'I really wish I could see it. We could sure use some rain over here.'
"And that was the last I heard from him. I sent him a reply that said, 'Will you be sleeping out there tonight?' And of course, there was no reply. And they all laid out there that night."
Juliann's voice broke as she spoke these last words and her lower lip quivered. But she smiled as Guthrie thanked her for sharing Andrew's story and those of his fellow firefighters.
"Thank you. They are heroes."
By Megan Finnerty, The Republic | azcentral.com