Yarnell Hill Fire: U.S. 89 reopens; memorial visible from overlo - KCTV5 News

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Yarnell Hill Fire: U.S. 89 reopens; memorial visible from overlook

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A flagpole marks the site where 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots were killed while fighting the Yarnell Hill Fire. The memorial is visible from U.S. Highway 89, which reopened Wednesday. (Source: CBS 5 News) A flagpole marks the site where 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots were killed while fighting the Yarnell Hill Fire. The memorial is visible from U.S. Highway 89, which reopened Wednesday. (Source: CBS 5 News)
Some Yarnell residents were able to return to the homes Monday morning. (Source: CBS 5 News) Some Yarnell residents were able to return to the homes Monday morning. (Source: CBS 5 News)
Others weren't so fortunate. (Source: CBS 5 News) Others weren't so fortunate. (Source: CBS 5 News)
(Source: CBS 5 News) (Source: CBS 5 News)
People gather alongside a rural highway to pay their respectsSunday . (Source: CBS 5 News) People gather alongside a rural highway to pay their respectsSunday . (Source: CBS 5 News)
PHOENIX (CBS5) -

U.S. Highway 89 was reopened to all traffic Wednesday morning and motorists can now see a memorial to 19 fallen firefighters from the road, according to the Arizona Department of Transportation.

All checkpoints established by the Yavapai County Sheriff's Office were lifted at 6 a.m. and traffic began flowing again on U.S. 89 through Yarnell.

Motorists can see a flagpole memorial to the 19 firefighters killed in the Yarnell Hill Fire on June 30.

A new overlook on U.S. 89 allows drivers to stop and see the flagpole marking the site where the 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots were overtaken by the flames.

Family members and Hotshot crews in the area for Tuesday's memorial to the firefighters were shuttled to the overlook on Tuesday.

The highway had been closed since June 30. The lightning-caused fire was started on June 28.

Residents of Yarnell began returning to their homes about 9 a.m. Monday.

Some residents returned to houses still intact, while others suffered the anguish of seeing where their homes were before being consumed by the Yarnell Hill Fire that began with a lightning strike June 28.

As a 125-mile procession bringing the bodies of 19 Hotshots reached Prescott on Sunday afternoon, residents were told they would be allowed to return Monday.

The Yavapai County Sheriff's Office established checkpoints for displaced residents at the north and south town boundaries for Yarnell. [RELATED: Read the re-entry plan (PDF)]

On Sunday, the public paid its respects to the Granite Mountain Hotshots crew who lost their lives in the explosive Yarnell Hill Fire one week ago. 

Nineteen hearses left from the Maricopa County Medical Examiner's Office in Phoenix. As the motorcycle-led escort traveled through Phoenix and into the suburbs, first responders and residents lined the streets holding flags and flowers and saluted.

Residents began gathering early at the Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza at 1700 W. Washington St. Sunday morning for the ceremonial transport, where they viewed the passing vehicles with the fallen heroes.

Under escort by the Joint Arizona Honor Guard, the fallen firefighters were transported by 19 hearses, each accompanied by motorcycle escorts from various agencies. Within each hearse, an Honor Guard member accompanied each fallen firefighter.

Flags of the U.S., the state of Arizona and local fire departments lined the path to the vehicles. Honor Guards flanked the path to the vehicles holding ceremonial axes.

Ladder trucks held a flag above the path. An Honor Watch will be maintained continuously so that the fallen firefighters will never be left alone until they are delivered to their families.

Samantha Kinkade asked everyone who planned on lining the streets to show their respect by bringing purple balloons to release into the sky as the vehicles pass. Purple represents fallen firefighters.

"Coming from a family of firefighters and a wife to one this time has been very difficult, I can't even imagine what the families are going through, but to do this little act of kindness might put a much needed smile on some of those family members as they take the heroes to their final resting spot," Kinkade said.

More than 300 firefighters continued to work near Yarnell as the wildfire continues creeping, smoldering and torching single trees. Utility companies are in the area of Yarnell to rebuild.

The evacuation for parts of Peeples Valley was lifted for residents July 4. Hundreds have remained separated from their homes and many still don't know what damage they will find when they are allowed back into Yarnell on Monday. At least 114 homes and other structures were lost. 

Forest officials say the lightning-caused wildfire is 90 percent contained, as of Saturday night. It has burned roughly 8,377 acres. Earlier this week, fire officials estimated full containment would happen by July 15. As of Wednesday night, they are estimating containment by July 12. 

On Tuesday, Vice President Joe Biden and thousands of family, friends and firefighters gathered at Tim's Toyota Center in Prescott Valley to memorialize the 19 lives in the Yarnell Hill Fire. The service was exclusively for family, friends and firefighters, but organizers expected thousands of residents to pack the area around the arena.

The Maricopa County medical examiner released the initial results of the 19 fallen firefighters' autopsies on Thursday, showing all of the men died from burns and inhalation problems. 

The firefighters were deployed to what was thought to be a manageable lightning-caused forest fire, but violent winds turned the fire.  

Fire investigators are trying to learn what circumstances led to the deaths of the Prescott Granite Mountain Hotshot team, said Jim Paxon, a founding member of the Arizona Wildfire Academy, and who served on the Southwest Interagency Incident Management Team during the Rodeo-Chediski Fire in 2002. 

"These investigators, with 30 plus years of experience, are scientists," Paxon told CBS 5 News on Tuesday morning. "They will try to discern what happened, and how can we prevent it in the future." 

Paxon said the investigators will look at communication, command structure and the plans used to fight the fire. They "will try to reconstruct the fire as it blew up and ran over the Granite Mountain crew," he said. 

On Friday, Sen. John McCain said the Yarnell Hill Fire shows how important it is to allow private companies to clear forests and devote more resources to firefighting efforts. 

In a joint news conference with fellow Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake in Prescott, McCain criticized a decrease in the availability of large air tankers and federal automatic budget cuts. 

McCain says the cuts will negatively affect the Department of Interior and its wildland firefighting budget. 

Yavapai College is creating a scholarship fund for the children and spouses of the 19 firefighters who died. 

Officials at the Prescott school say some of the Granite Mountain Hotshots team members were Yavapai College students and many were in its fire science program. 

The Granite Mountain Hotshots Scholarship Fund will provide two-year scholarships for the community college education needs of the children and spouses of the fallen firefighters.  

Copyright 2013 CBS 5 (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.

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