Joe Thurston


Firefighters and residents gathered with family and friends in Cedar City, Utah, this weekend to honor Joe Thurston, who was among 19 firefighters killed while battling a wildfire near Prescott last month.

The event featured speakers who shared memories of the 32-year-old Cedar City native, who died while fighting the Yarnell Hill Fire along with other members of the Granite Mountain Interagency Hotshots.

The event included a barbecue, raffle and bake sale to raise money for Thurston's wife, Marsena, and two young sons, Collin and Ethan.

His mother, Gayemarie Ekker, and friends noted he was a daredevil who was up to any challenge and who pushed the limits whether it was skateboarding or cliff diving.

"After talking to his friends, the miracle is not that we had Joe," Ekker said. "The miracle is that we had Joe for as long as we did."

Speakers also described the graduate of Cedar City High School and Southern Utah University as dedicated and wise beyond his years. They also remembered his contagious smile and friendly demeanor.

Groom Creek Fire District Capt. Joe Hernandez, who once worked with Thurston, told The Salt Lake Tribune that he was a "relentless worker" who would work out for hours after a 10-hour work day so he could get in good enough shape to join the elite hotshot crew.

"He was one of the best in this nation, and you would never hear him brag about it," Hernandez said.

Mayor Joe Burgess said Thurston was protecting citizens by fighting the Yarnell Hill Fire, and he did that every day.

"It's great that our community was able to put this together to honor his wife and mother, and his family and his two boys, and let them know how much we appreciate them for the sacrifice they've made," he said.

A condolence letter from Utah Gov. Gary Herbert praising Thurston was read during the memorial service. Firefighters from many agencies in Utah and Arizona attended the event.