PRESCOTT, Ariz. (USA TODAY) -- From his lookout position on a scrubby hillside, Brendan McDonough tracked the fast-changing elements of the Yarnell Hill
Fire late Sunday: the weather, the landscape, the movement of the
flames and smoke. Finally, officials would later say, he made a
Weather conditions were changing. The wind was pushing
the fire in another direction. McDonough had reached a preset trigger
based on those conditions, and he needed to move. He radioed the news to
his crew, the 19 other members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots who
were fighting the fire farther down the hill.
he hiked out of the area, he spoke by radio to another crew, according
to a Prescott Fire Department spokesman who recounted the events.
he turned back, he realized the fire had engulfed the lookout point
he'd just left. He never heard back from his crew mates, who died when
the shifting flames swept across their fire line.
The identity of
McDonough, the much-discussed 20th member of the hotshot crew, emerged
Tuesday through social media, reporters' inquiries and, finally, an
Then just as quickly, the 21-year-old
firefighter pleaded for privacy, a message relayed by authorities who
asked the media and the public to give McDonough time to deal with what
"He is very distraught, as you might think," said Wade
Ward, a Fire Department spokesman. "He is very emotional. He's got all
the questions, the why and the why not. He's concerned for the families
mostly. I can tell you Brendan has no desire to speak to anybody at this
STORY: How you can help the Arizona firefighters' families
a community meeting Tuesday, Ward acknowledged the intense interest in
McDonough, whose existence was revealed in some of the earliest reports
about the deaths of the firefighters.
There were questions about his role in the crew and why he wasn't with the other members when fire struck.
Tuesday, officials explained his duties and said that they wanted
people to understand that McDonough followed procedures and prepared to
move to a new location in advance of his crew, as his assignment
"He did his job," Ward said.
McDonough appeared briefly Tuesday night at an emotional vigil in
Prescott, surrounded by firefighters as the crowd cheered. But he has
given no interviews and, on his Facebook page, he asked friends and
family not to speak with the news media if they were approached.
a sketchy portrait of McDonough came together through social media,
public records and statements by fire department officials.
Facebook page, McDonough said he had lived previously in Oceanside,
Calif., a beach city between San Diego and Orange County.
teenager, he moved to Prescott and attended Prescott High School, where
he was involved with the Air Force Junior ROTC. He graduated in 2009 and
later enrolled at Yavapai College, where he studied fire science.
joined the Granite Mountain Hotshots in 2011, "my dream job," he wrote
in an April 2011 Facebook post, "full of excitement and an adrenaline
rush I can't explain. (I) work with the best people I could."
weeks earlier, he had become a father. In March 2011, the Prescott
Daily Courier published a baby announcement that said McDonough and
Natalie Nesvig, also of Prescott, had welcomed a baby girl, Michaela
Rose McDonough. Nesvig had posted photos of herself and McDonough
together in various settings, including in two of her online profile
McDonough was in his third season with the hotshots when the Yarnell
Hill Fire erupted last week. On Sunday afternoon, he was working as a
Fire experts say the lookout is critical for
firefighters, who need a set of eyes focused on the weather and the
movement of the flames.
Ward said McDonough's job Sunday was to
watch the situation and decide when the various elements reached the
"trigger points" that would signal a change in position.
McDonough determined he needed to move, he radioed the supervisor of his
hotshot crew. Officials said he radioed that the weather was changing
and that the fire was shifting in a new direction. He told his crew
members that if they needed anything to contact him. Then, he left with
the superintendent of another hotshot crew.
Bob Orrill, a member
of the Southwest Incident Command team, met with McDonough early Tuesday
and brought a message to the community meeting.
like to express his appreciation and that of his fallen brothers for the
outpouring of support towards this organization and the firefighting
community in general," Orrill said.
An emotional crowd at the community meeting applauded and cheered as Ward and Orrill relayed McDonough's story.
Some of the loudest cheers came as Ward asked the news media to respect McDonough's privacy.
social-media sites, McDonough's family and friends offered support. His
father, Scott McDonough, who is in Boston, posted a picture of his son
in firefighting gear and said: "Good work in Arizona, son. Proud and
glad you're safe!"
In Prescott, Juliann Ashcraft, wife of Andrew Ashcraft, one of the fallen firefighters, talked about McDonough on Tuesday.
"I hope that he knows we love him," she said.