EKALAKA — One of the 19 firefighters killed by a wildfire in Arizona has been buried in a cemetery in the tiny eastern Montana town where he spent most of his childhood.
The Billings Gazette reports that more than 1,800 mourners attended the funeral Saturday of 24-year-old Dustin DeFord. He was one of the members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots killed when a windblown wildfire overcame them in Yarnell, about 60 miles north of Phoenix, on June 30.
DeFord was remembered for his desire to join an elite firefighting crew and for having an infectious enthusiasm for life and for his faith. He graduated in 2010 from the Cornerstone Bible Institute in Hot Springs, S.D.
DeFord was one of eight brothers and two sisters. The parents in a letter read by Rev. Bob Anderson said their son “is with his Lord and Savior today because he consciously put his trust in the One who died for his sin on Calvary’s cross. We have a blessed hope.”
The family also spoke about the outpouring they’ve received and thanked the many firefighters who traveled to the funeral.
“We are touched by your compassion and loyalty,” the family said. “Stay safe out there.”
The newspaper reported that hundreds of firefighters, most wearing uniforms, came from North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming and towns from Montana to attend the service in the Carter County High School gym.
The Granite Mountain Hotshots are a division of the Prescott Fire Department, and three members of that agency attended.
“To be a Hotshot is to be elite, and the people who make the determination of who goes on our Hotshot crew have extremely high standards,” said fire department division chief Don Devendorf. “The fact that he made it on our crew says he was the best of the best.”
John LeBar served as president of the Cornerstone Bible Institute when DeFord was a student.
“He had a simple faith and a simple understanding of a great truth,” LeBar said.
After the service in the high school, dozens of fire rigs, lights flashing, took part in the short procession to the Beaver Lodge Cemetery.
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