Mourners gathered in Marana this afternoon to say farewell to William "Billy" Warneke, one of 19 firefighters killed last month battling a wildfire near Prescott.
A National Guard helicopter brought Warneke’s body to Marana Northwest Regional Airport about 3 p.m.
Services started about 4 p.m. at Marana Mortuary & Cemetery, following a procession from the airport.
The procession arrived at the cemetery just after 3:30 p.m., moments after Blackhawk helicopters flew overhead.
Bagpipes played as the flag-draped coffin was being lowered from a fire truck, just before the start of the ceremony.
More than 200 people were already gathered at the cemetery about an hour before it was to start.
“In addition to Billy being part of our extended firefighter family, he was a recruit of mine at Pima Community College Fire Academy,” said Brian Delfs, chief for Avra Valley Fire District, shortly before the service began. “He was one of those recruits that you always remember because he was the genuine article.”
Warneke, 25, lived with his wife Roxanne in a home they bought in Avra Valley in April.
She is due to deliver their baby in December
“Firefighters have had a long tradition of brotherhood, we are a family, said Ray Klein, an Avra Valley firefighter who was awaiting the start of the services. “We all come together to support the families and help each other through these difficult times.”
Fire trucks were parked along the procession route and the Patriot Guard Riders, carried 50 American flags near the site of the services.
“I’m here to show my respects for the family, said Juanita Carbajal, 69, who lives in the community of Rillito. “I feel for the wife, she is so young and is expecting their first baby,” she continued. “I will be praying for the family.”
“I came today to pay homage to young man who twice put himself in harm’s way for all of us,” said Army National Guard Sgt. 1st Class Guy Peabody, noting Warneke’s service as a Marine and firefighter.
“This is the least I can do, to show respect for someone who has given so much. God bless him.”
Thunder and gusty wind accompanied the end of the ceremony.
Doves were released and badges were pinned on Warneke’s casket.
Bells rung and bagpipes wailed, “Amazing Grace.”