The news came swiftly and without warning: Yarnell Hill was burning. On a balmy Sunday, June 30, 2013, Denise & Lou Roggio sat on their side patio watching as smoke plummeted from the hills across from their residence. The wind was blowing the smoke and blaze toward Peeples Valley, away from the town of Yarnell. The time was 3:30 pm, and the sun cast an eerie rusty glow on ground.
By 4 pm, the Sheriff’s deputy was canvassing the neighborhood, explaining to the couple that they were giving residents in the area a 4 hour warning in case there was the need to evacuate. The blaze still seemed distant, and the planes were covering the hillside with slurry. What happened next will forever be etched in Denise’s memory. 4 hours never culminated. Within 20 minutes of the deputy’s visit, the wind’s sudden change of direction prompted an immediate mandatory evacuation. The Roggio’s could see, hear and smell the impact of the fire, smoke and all-over haze in the air, as they rushed to their motor home, leaving behind the 2 bedroom mountainside cottage they had come to adore. The time was now 4:30 pm.
Denise and Lou stayed in Wilhoit during the 9 day evacuation period. They learned quickly of the tragic deaths of 19 firefighters, which occurred moments after they left their home. The couple was deeply saddened by the events that took place that day, feeling an intense grief for the survivors, including the one Granite Mountain Hotshot who helplessly witnessed the deaths of his colleagues.
Denise is an avid walker, hiker and jogger. She recounts that it was on an early morning walk a few days after the tragic deaths that the song “Blazing Honor” was born. Her husband Lou helped lyrically with the song, and in fact the title was Lou’s creativity.
The days that followed brought encouragement. The Roggios were informed by emergency management that their residence had been spared during the 14 square mile wildfire. They were also saddened by the news that many homes were destroyed, and many people lost everything. Denise and Lou decided that they wanted to do something to help rebuild Yarnell.
Upon returning home, they began recording “Blazing Honor” in their home studio, and then it came to them: what they had to give to Yarnell WAS the song. They decided not to accept profit for the tribute, but rather to accept donations only. Many disks were created, and the song was made available online for donations to the Yarnell Hill Recovery Group to aid in the rebuilding process.
Yarnell had become an idyllic place for Denise. The fire brought the community together, stronger and better than before. The next task for her was to compose a song that captured the Spirit of Yarnell, a song of celebration, a song of rebuilding. Once again, an early morning walk and jog sparked her creativity, and “Yarnell Rising”, the song of hope, was the result.
Denise feels privileged and humbled by the entire experience. She has been asked to sing her songs for several fundraising events, from Phoenix to Prescott, and never turns down the opportunity to share the songs with others. “Yarnell, Arizona’s home to me,” she sings, and the people of Yarnell are important to her. You will often hear her say that she has never seen a community that is so dedicated to each other. Yarnell truly is where she wants to be!
The ground breaking has begun; the trial by fire is over. Yarnell Rises!