PRESCOTT, Ariz. -- Before dawn, Juliann Ashcraft kissed her husband goodbye as he left their home to join his wildfire crew, the Granite Mountain Hotshots. Andrew Ashcraft promised to text her during the day, as always.
Andrew's first message came about 5:45 a.m. Sunday, about half an hour after he'd left home. Andrew, 29, tall and strapping, was heading to the fire in Yarnell, Ariz., that was threatening homes.
As the crew went into the hills, Juliann took their four children to a nearby pool.
Another text from Andrew arrived: "I think I'm going to be out here a while on this one."
And later: "It's getting really wild out here -- Peeples Valley is trying to burn down."
Juliann, a 28-year-old with flowing red hair, was not fazed. Her husband had fought big fires before, including one a week earlier. She sent him pictures of the kids swimming.
"I'd love to be in a swimming pool right now," he replied.
Later, he sent her a photo of his crew making camp for lunch with smoke from the fire line rising in the background. He said it was 105 degrees or about 40 C.
It would be the last image she would see of them alive.
"It looks like the inferno," she replied. Their four-year-old daughter, Shiloh, sent a message to her father that it was raining; she wished he could see.
"We could really use a little rain down here," he replied at 3:19 p.m.
About 4 p.m., she texted, "Are you sleeping down there?"
She was used to that. Andrew was often out of contact, although he made an effort, climbing hills to get reception just to text her an "I love you."
About 7:30 p.m., her phone started buzzing with friends and family. Was Andrew OK?
About 9 p.m., two sheriff's deputies arrived at the couple's suburban duplex with the news. Nineteen firefighters had died, including Andrew.
Juliann spent the next day assembling dental records and information on marks that could be used to identify her husband, including tattoos: their children's names on his collarbone, their wedding date on his ring finger.
There are still so many unknowns: how her husband died, why he couldn't outrun the fire or shelter from the blaze.
The couple's seventh anniversary was coming up, July 22, and he had already ordered her a gift -- she's not sure what it is or when it will arrive.
Juliann is not sure how badly he was burned, and doesn't think she wants to find out.
"My husband had the most beautiful blue eyes and smile -- that's what I want to remember," she said.
She is comforted by the idea that her husband's remains were transported to the medical examiner's office with those of his crew, that they remained together in death.
"There was no outside of work for them," she said. "They loved what they did to the point it was worth it to them being away from the ones they loved to save people and their homes."
-- Los Angeles Times