William Howard Warneke

Billy Warneke’s life was defined by pushing the limits.
 It’s what drove him as a kid exploring the backwoods of California to tackle steep climbs and rough terrain. It’s what led him to not just joining the Marine Corps at age 17, but earning the privilege to call himself part of the Corps’ elite scout sniper team. His last adventure in life was, fittingly, one more opportunity to test the limits of his endurance: wildland firefighting. 
His mother, Kathie Purkey, says, “Billy always put his whole effort into whatever he took on.” After leaving the Marine Corps in July 2009, Billy focused on achieving his next dream: becoming a member of a hotshot fire crew. The U.S. Forestry Service relies on hotshot crews to fight complex and dangerous fires on some of the most inaccessible and rough terrain in the country. The hotshot tryouts were physically and mentally challenging, and required intense effort with no guarantee of a spot on the team. Billy threw himself into the training with his usual enthusiasm and it paid off when he was selected to join the Granite Mountain Interagency Hotshot Crew in April 2013.
 The last time Kathie visited her son in Arizona, he had just received the news and was heading out for training the next week.
 “He was really excited to finally get out there and start doing everything he had prepared for. His hard work was finally paying off,” Kathie says.
 Three months later, lightning sparked a fire on a small mountain just outside the rural town of Yarnell, Arizona. The small flames quickly took advantage of dry, windy weather and acres of parched undergrowth to build into a massive firestorm. As Billy and the other hotshots battled the blaze, the winds shifted and they were suddenly faced with every firefighter’s worst nightmare: they were surrounded by fire. The team was forced to stay in place and utilize their fire shelters. Unfortunately, the fire was too great and their equipment was not capable of standing up to the flames. Nineteen hero firefighters died that day.

In addition to his parents and siblings, Billy is survived by a wife and a daughter who was born six months after his death.