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Family of Granite Mountain Hotshot Uses Gratitude to Cope With the Grief

It’s been 10 years since the tragedy of the Yarnell Hill wildfire but for the families of the Granite Mountain Hotshots that day plays on forever.

“Sometimes it feels like it was yesterday,” says Juliann Ashcraft. “Other times it feels like it was a lifetime ago, just because so much has happened. But you know, the emotion of it is still so real and so raw inside.”

She tells us on June 30, 2013, her husband Andrew Ashcraft and the rest of the hotshots were just doing what they were trained to do.

“I really think it was somewhat business as normal for them,” says Ashcraft.

She tells us her husband was in constant contact with her via text and then she got one last message.

“The last I heard from him was when it was lunchtime and you know he sent me this message in all caps that just said: I LOVE YOU JULIANN,” says Ashcraft.

Hours would go by before she saw the news.

“Right across the bottom of the TV, at the time they had it incorrect. It said, ’18 hotshots dead.’ Of course, we know there was 19 but I know how many men are on the crew. So, even then I felt right away the impact. Like, I just knew my life was totally upended in that moment,” says Ashcraft.

The father of four and 18 other members of his crew had been killed by the wildfire.

“He was the love of your life. You guys knew each other since you were kids. How are you doing with that part?” ABC15 asked.

“I miss him every day,” says Ashcraft. “I feel blessed to have been married, to have been so in love, to have a wonderful family and kids. So, I don’t really feel like I’m needing anything. I just miss his company. I miss his laughter. I miss his companionship and all of the things that I thought we would have. You know, the 50-year anniversary, we’ll never get to see, or the grandbabies will never hold together. Those things are still really sad, and in the back of my mind, but we try to focus on the present day each day.”

Today, the family lives out of state, but they still live by their dad’s mantra to ‘Be Better’.

“He gave us all of these white wristbands,” Ashcraft says. “He called them a ‘Be Better’ band and he said, you know, when he looked at his wristband, which he promised to wear for the rest of his life. That it would be a reminder to him to live better, to make a better decision and in whatever moment that would be to benefit himself as a human being on the planet, as a father, as a husband.”

It’s been a tough road for the family but a bus tour across the country in 2015 helped them heal. They spent time meeting some of the people who reached out to them with messages of support.

“We bought an old tour bus and we lived on it for a year, and I my kids and I would, we filled out thank you cards for each of these people,” Ashcraft says. “And my kids drew them letters and pictures. And then we just knocked on their door and really our whole message was just to say thank you.”

She tells us what the family found was despite the tragedy, they are blessed as a family, and they will carry on Andrew and his brothers’ memories.

“I’m looking forward to it for the first time, I think as this anniversary approaches. June 30th is as heavy a day as June 29th or June 28th because we miss Andrew every day. But this 10-year feels different because my kids have grown, and my son is actually speaking at the event. So, it really shows the generations have just kept on, kept on going and time is marching on. And it feels almost like we’re passing the baton of these guys legacy to, you know, the really only living piece of them left. So, I think that will be special this year.”