FAIRFIELD — At first glance, it’s just a line of 19 water bottles in someone’s front yard.
On closer in inspection, it’s something far more poignant.
Ryan Wuelfing of Fairfield wanted to do something to honor the 19 Arizona firefighters who were killed when a windblown wildfire overtook them Sunday as they battled to slow its progress.
“Everybody’s heard about what happened in Arizona, it’s a tragedy,” Wuelfing said.
After he heard the news, the Wren Court resident said he filled up 19 plastic bottles, using food coloring to dye some red and blue, and lined them up across his front lawn.
“I do my little memorials and tributes and things like that,” he said, pointing to a wall dedicated to New York in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks there.
“It was pretty much just my way of saying prayers are out for them and their families,” Wuelfing said. “It’s just a terrible situation and I said that I would leave them out there until the fire was burned out and then I would take the bottles of water down and put them out every year on the day.”
The 19 firefighters, members of the Prescott, Ariz.-based Granite Mountain Hotshots, were battling flames on the front lines of a brush fire, trying to deprive the blaze of fuel to help contain it.
But the wind-fueled fire quickly grew from 200 acres to 2,000acres, with gusts up to 41 mph feeding the flames, the Associated Press reported Tuesday.
“I went online and I learned about these guys, they’re like an elite team, they’re like Delta Force for firefighters,” Wuelfing said of the Hotshots.
The loss, the single largest loss of firefighters in the U.S. since 342 died in the 9/11 attacks, hit home for Wuelfing.
“My wife’s best friend’s husband – he’s a firefighter. He’s in the military,” he said. “I have a lot of respect for any officers, anybody that’s on the line of duty, sacrificing their lives to make us safer, make my daughter safer. I really have a soft heart.”
Wuelfing,who trains police dogs, said a trip to New York, including a visit to Ground Zero, was eye-opening.
“You see it on TV all the time . . . but to go there and stand on Ground Zero, it’s so big. Your mind – it just kind of like seeps in,” he said.
After that, he carries a greater respect than ever for those who put their lives on the line.
“It’s just the least that I can do,” he said. “Our hearts go out to the firefighters and their families.”
Reach Mike Corpos at 427-6979 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/mcorposdr.