The only cure for grief is action.
George Henry Lewes
The Yarnell Hill Fire was ignited by lightning on June 28, 2013. On June 30, it overran and killed 19 firefighters from the Prescott Fire Department’s interagency Granite Mountain Hotshots. The wildfire was fully contained by July 10, 2013. The impact to the families of these men and to the central Arizona community was immense.
A spontaneous community-based memorial was quickly created on the street by the fire department, a place for people to meet and express their grief. Pictures of the men, tributes from their friends and families, and toys contributed by bewildered children began to appear on the chain link fence. The community found a way to grieve in public. Over the next few days the memorial grew. Tandy Rackerby led a group of Prescott College students and faculty to set up prayer flag stations to help those wanting to create a tribute. Cloth for flags, markers and twine were made available, and volunteers stayed at the workstations to share the materials and provide support to the grieving community. Within days this effort was recognized by the press, including the following article by Scott Craven of The Republic | azcentral.com – Wed Jul 3, 2013:
PRESCOTT — If grief could be measured by the flower, by the balloon, by the square foot of fence covered in thank-yous and goodbyes, then the makeshift memorial outside Prescott Fire Station 7 makes it clear that this city’s pain runs deep.
… Tandy Rackerby of Prescott was setting up a small table piled high with fabric squares and markers. Moved by her visit to the makeshift memorial the previous day, and not knowing what else to do, she decided to create and distribute prayer flags, allowing people to write their thoughts and tie them to the fence.
Rackerby bought sheets from Goodwill and found volunteers to cut them into 12-inch squares. With support and volunteers from Prescott College, she was ready for visitors who wanted to contribute something.
“As you grieve, you can heal,” Rackerby said. “We want to give people a way to grieve…”
Tandy’s involvement with this community crisis has evolved and has taken her graduate career into an unplanned yet important direction. She will serve on a panel at the 2014 The American Art Therapy Association meeting in San Antonio discussing this project in the context of other responses to community disasters like 9/11, Sandy Hook, and Columbine. Her capstone project, completing her Master’s degree will also focus on the topic of community grief, drawing on her experience with the Yarnell Fire Memorial in Prescott.
A YouTube video produced for Frozen Rainbows about the project can be found at the following link: