COSTA MESA (CBS/AP) — Loved ones are remembering three firefighters from Orange County who perished over the weekend in an Arizona wildfire.
Grant McKee and Kevin Woyjeck, both 21, and 29-year-old Andrew Ashcraft, of Orange, were among 19 highly trained firefighters who lost their lives Sunday when violent wind gusts turned what was believed to be a relatively manageable lightning-ignited forest fire in the town of Yarnell into a death trap. McKee’s cousin, 23-year-old Robert Caldwell, was also killed in the blaze.
McKee family neighbor, Zolta Teglas, said the family was still reeling from the tragedy on Tuesday.
“They were inseparable. They were always together. They were a team,” Teglas said of McKee and Caldwell.
He described getting a call from McKee’s aunt, breaking the news the young man and his cousin had died.
“She said, ‘Grant is gone. Oh no, Oh no,’” he said. “Because I was thinking, I hope he is okay. I hope Grant’s okay, I hope Robert’s okay. She called me 15 minutes later screaming on the phone saying, ‘They are gone, they are gone!’ Horrible. I can’t believe it. I’m still in shock.”
Teglas said McKee’s father, Scott, was on a remote trip and he had no idea what happened in Arizona. He came home to learn the news that his son and his nephew were both killed.
“It’s a devastating loss to this family,” Teglas said. “They were two of the nicest guys. Grant just got engaged. Bobby just got married.”
Caldwell moved to Arizona as a baby but McKee grew up in Costa Mesa and attended Newport Harbor High School before moving to Arizona to become a Hotshot.
On Saturday he was released from duty for a short visit with his grandmother, who lives there.
Teglas recalled a conversation between the pair, and said McKee planned to return to school after fire season was over.
“He said, ‘Grandma, I’m really tired, and I’m really happy to be home. This fire is really intense, and after this fire season is over, I’ll go back to school and focus on EMT work, and even consider being a doctor.”
At 21, McKee, of Costa Mesa, and Woyjeck, of Seal Beach, were the youngest members of the Prescott, Arizona Hotshot crew to be killed. The event marked the nation’s biggest loss of firefighters since 9/11.
“This is actually Kevin’s hat,” L.A. County Fire Captain Joe Woyjeck, Kevin’s father, said at a press conference, accompanied by his wife and daughter.
Woyjeck said he spoke to his son on Sunday morning, and remembers Kevin describing the fire he was on his way to fight.
“[He said], ‘We’re on our way there. I won’t have cell service so I’ll call you tonight.’ And that’s the last we heard from him,” the father remembered.
The family said it was Kevin’s dream to follow his relatives into the fire service and land a job working for the L.A. County Fire Department.
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