Juliann Ashcraft, the widow of fallen firefighter Andrew Ashcraft,
one of 19 men who sacrificed his life battling a wildfire Sunday outside of Yarnell, Ariz., discussed the final text messages and photos she shared with her husband hours before he died.
The 29-year-old former "rookie of the year" on the elite "Hotshot" team, was a father of four, all of whom are younger than 6 years old. Andrew died Sunday along with 18 colleagues while trying to contain the wildfire that quadrupled in size, to 13 square miles, threatening homes across Arizona.
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Juliann recounted her final exchanges with her husband the morning before he and his team perished about 85 miles northwest of Phoenix.
"He sent a photo of where he was sitting and what the fire looked like for them, at their lunch spot," Juliann Ashcraft told NBC TODAY.
"It still did not look as catastrophic as it turned out to be, but it was interesting to have that perspective, to know what life was like for him on the fire lines and know what he risked day in and day out."
According to Juliann, the team was very close and acted like a family.
"It was everything to him. Outside of the love he shared for his family members, hotshot firefighting was his life," she said. "He had his priorities in line, but when he was there, he would tell me, ‘They say jump and I’d say, how high.’ Their main goal was to save lives.
"They loved what they did. These men worked together," Juliann added. "They lived together, they fought fires together, and they died together doing what they loved."
Like President Barack Obama, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R), and many others officials,
the tearful Juliann attributed the word "hero" to her late husband and his team.
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"They were heroes in our home, they were heroes in our community," she said. "They were heroes to the people that they helped there. Our kids will remember them as heroes as well."
Sunday’s tragedy in Arizona is the greatest loss among U.S. firefighters from a single blaze in 80 years. Twenty-nine men died battling a fire in Griffith Park in 1933 in Los Angeles, according to National Fire Protection Association records.
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