TODAY

TODAY   |  July 02, 2013

Ariz. firefighter’s wife: ‘They were heroes’

Juliann Ashcraft’s husband, Andrew, was one of the 19 firefighters killed in Arizona on Sunday. She says her husband and his fellow firefighters “loved what they did” and shares how she and her four children are coping with the loss.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> was one of the firefighters that died on sunday. juliann good morning to you.

>> good morning savannah.

>> let me start by saying how sorry we are to hear of your loss. you have little kids. this must come as such a shock. how are you doing?

>> well, it's a sad day but we're hanging in there. we have a lot of support from the community. a lot of support from the other wives going through the same thing and we're doing the best we can. just one day at a time.

>> i know one of the reasons you're here talking to us this morning is because you want everybody to know what a wonderful man your husband was. what would you want people to learn about him?

>> not just him, all the 19 men that lost their lives and of course i'm partial and i love dearly and miss dearly my husband and the father of my children. he was the most amazing man. best person i know. a contagious smile, a heart of gold . that's why he chose to do what he did and work where he worked. he wanted to protect the community he lived in and loved. and the 19 men, all of them, they really bonded together. and i want people to know that in our time of mourning we want people to know they were heros. they are heros. they were heros in our homes, in our community, and the people they helped spare and our kids remember them as heros as well.

>> they were really the elite of the elite and i know your husband in particular was rookie of the year in 2011 . this is incredibly dangerous work. it goes without saying. what did it mean to him to be on the front lines , to help people?

>> it was everything to him. outside of the love he shared for his family members, hot shot fire fighting was his life. he had his priorities in line but when he was there he would tell me they say jump and i say how high. the main goal was to save lives. it was a blessing it came on the end when so many things were done and our kmcommunity was so proud of them and we're still so proud of them. it means everything to the way people have reached out. they loved what they did. they lived together and fought fires together and they died together doing what they love.

>> i know on sunday you exchanged a text message with your husband in the late afternoon and it may have been.

>> yes.

>> just a couple of hours before he passed. can you share with us what he said?

>> sure. we had a series of text messages throughout that morning. he let me know that they had been assigned to the fire in yarnell. at that point they were focussing more on people's valley. he let us know he loved us and missed us already which was a common thing for him to do when he would go on a fire. because of the dangers of the job he would always tell us he loved us. he got to the fire and i had gone to church with our four children and our oldest son gave a talk in church this past sunday that he was sad that he missed so he messaged me and told me to let him know he was proud of him. he said along the same lines that he was missing our family and that for whatever reason that this fire was wild and he said it looked like people's valley was starting to burn and obviously the goal is for them to avoid any structure on fire. so it was wild he said. and i sent him pictures of what we were doing and the kids swimming and he sent me a photo back of where he was sitting and what the fire looked like for them from their lunch spot and it still did not look at catastrophic as it turned out to be but it was interesting to have that perspective to know what life was like for him on the fire lines and what he risked day in and day out. he got back to me and said i wish i was in the swimming pool . he also followed it up. i told him through our text messages that our daughter had been saying, when he was watching the thunderstorm she said daddy needs to see this and i let him know via text message she had said that. he said we could sure use rain over here. that was the last i heard from him. i sent a reply that said will you be sleeping out there tonight? and of course there was no reply.

>> you have our love and our sympathy and greatest admiration. we wish you the best. thank you for sharing his story and the story of the other firefighters who were so brave. we really appreciate it.

>> thank you. they are heros.

>> you know savannah, you look at the photographs of the family. andrew 29 years old. 4 childrens. none of whom is older than the age of six. they need a lot of help from the community and their family but a very strong woman this morning.

>> beautiful family.

>> it was so important for her to let the world know about him and his colleagues and how special they were and what they did and she said it, they died fighting to protect people. that's what they were all about and they have our hearts this morning. that is for sure.

>> what courage, though, to hear her words and, wow, just to be able to speak like that and really represent the best of what they're going through right now.

>> there are 18 more stories just like that one, unfortunately.