July 3rd, 2013 by

Along with the rest of the nation, the American Forests family mourns the loss of the brave members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots crew, who died Sunday while combatting Arizona’s Yarnell Hill Fire. In memory of this elite group of men that regularly braved dangerous conditions to prevent wildfires from destroying communities and ecosystems alike, we wanted to share a story that recently came to our attention of a very special tree that the Hotshots went out of their way to save.

Members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots climb the national co-champion alligator juniper, which they saved from the Doce Fire.

Members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots climb the national co-champion alligator juniper, which they saved from the Doce Fire. Credit: docefire azpnf/Flickr

On June 18, fire broke out in Prescott National Forest near Prescott, Ariz. Over the next week and a half, the fire consumed more than 6,700 acres of the forest, while firefighters, including the Granite Mountain Hotshots, worked to contain the blaze threatening the national forest — including a huge and significant tree: American Forests’ national co-champion alligator juniper, tied for being the largest of its species in the entire country.

As reported by Joanna Dodder Nellans with The Daily Courier, “When [Prescott National Forest Wilderness and Trails Manager Jason] Williams told the Hotshots about the tree and asked them to save it, they headed up the mountain and cut out thick brush at the base of the co-champion alligator juniper and cut a fire line around it. The Hotshots checked on the tree Monday when they were in the vicinity and saw that the fire had burned right up to that line.” The national co-champion alligator juniper survived thanks to the Granite Mountain Hotshots.

Our debt to these brave men for protecting our forests and communities, along with saving the potentially 1,000-year-old alligator juniper, can never be repaid, but working alongside our partners in Arizona’s Champion Tree Program, we will endeavor to make sure the alligator juniper continues to thrive as a monument to their courage. American Forests will also plant 1,900 trees in a national forest damaged by fire in memory of the 19 Hotshots who lost their lives doing a job they loved.

Our thoughts and prayers are with their families and friends.