A pair of well-used work gloves still rest atop a bathroom sink in the Avra Valley home of firefighter William Warneke. Chunks of drywall are piled up in the bedroom corner. There are holes in the floor of the would-be master bathroom, covered only by flimsy cardboard.
Warneke was in the middle of a home renovation project – one he planned to finish after returning from Prescott, where he and 19 firefighters in the elite Granite Mountain Hotshots crew were fighting the Yarnell Hill fire.
“He literally just put things down and went to that fire,” said Northwest Fire District Public Information Officer Adam Goldberg. “That’s the commitment he gave to the community. Got the call, packed his bags, and off he went. He probably told his wife, ‘Honey, I’ll keep working on this when I get back.’”
But, sadly, it’s a fire Warneke would never return from, and a project he would not finish.
On June 30, as the crew battled the flames at Yarnell Hill, harsh winds sent the fire in an unpredictable direction, killing all but one member of the squad.
It was the most deadly wildland fire in the past 80 years.
Warneke, 25, lived with his wife and high school sweetheart, Roxanne. The two, who had been married since December of 2008, were expecting a child in December.
Warneke was also a four-year Marine Corps veteran who served a tour in Iraq. He joined the hotshot crew in April.
There is nothing Warneke’s fellow firefighters can do to bring him back or alleviate the pain that has overcome those who knew and loved him. But, there is something his brothers in arms will do in his honor.
They will see to it that Warneke’s project is completed, and his family taken care of.
“Firefighters have this good, inherent nature to get involved and really show support in a number of ways, and one of the ways we do that for a fallen firefighter and their family is figuring out what needs to be done for them,” said Goldberg, who is calling the project “Extreme Home Makeover: Southern Arizona Firefighter’s edition.”
Members of the Southern Arizona Firefighter’s Association, along with volunteers from Victory Assembly of God Church, the Marine Corps, and various fire departments around Tucson are teaming up to collect volunteers and donations as they prepare to begin construction on Aug. 12.
The project will consist of completing what Warneke started and more, including renovations to the master bedroom and bathroom, as well as a complete revamp of the kitchen.
An honorary memorial will also be built in Warneke’s backyard.
AAA Landscaping has pledged to help with further renovations to the front and back yards.
But Goldberg says more help is still needed.
“We’re looking for bodies, we’re looking for donations, and we are looking for contributions… such as Home Depot appliances, or Sears,” he said. “We will take everything and anything.”
Goldberg expects the project to be completed in six days.
Dan Klement, president of the North Tucson Firefighters Association, and Warneke family liaison, is acting as the project coordinator. He has been in the firefighting field for 22 years, but he says he’s never taken on such a task as this one.
“This is the most important thing I’ve ever done in my career,” he said. “Bill died doing what we’ve all done. He’s a brother. “
Following Warneke’s death, it was Klement who delivered the bad news to Roxanne.
“It was horrible,” he said. “But for me to be the family liaison and take it from there is an honor. They’re just wonderful, wonderful people.”
The funeral service will take place on July 10, with the procession beginning in Prescott. Warneke’s body will then be flown via helicopter to the Marana Airport, arriving between 2:15 p.m. and 2:40 p.m.
From there, the casket will be transferred to a brush truck, which will leave at approximately 3:15 p.m. before traveling 6.5 miles to the Marana Mortuary Cemetery, 12146 W. Barnett Road.
Funeral services are scheduled to begin at 4 p.m.
The funeral is open to the public.
Goldberg expects between 40 and 100 fire trucks to be in attendance. Members of the Marine Corps will also be present.
Goldberg says long after the funeral, the family will continue to receive unyielding support.
“That’s the thing about these difficult and tragic times – we as a fire service; we don’t stop after a funeral,” said Goldberg. “Families will know us for the rest of their lives.”
Donations can be made at any Wells Fargo Bank by referencing the William Warneke Memorial Fund, 6638768264.
To volunteer or donate items for the project, call Dan Klement at 520-979-2658 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Yarnell Fire was declared 100 percent contained on Monday.