Clayton Whitted, 28

Clayton Whitted felt a spiritual calling to fight fires.

He grew up in Prescott, Ariz., and joined the Prescott Hotshots right out of high school.

Around 2007, he left the Hotshots for about a year and went to work as a pastor at Heights Church, hoping to spend more time with his family in Prescott while his mother was ailing.

Sheri Winter, a member of the church, said Mr. Whitted used to come pray with her family every night after her brother was diagnosed with cancer. And he always bought her daughter a stuffed animal for her birthday, each year a larger one than the last.

“He was as solid as a rock, as far as supporting us and keeping us strong,” Ms. Winter said.

In 2008, he decided to return to firefighting, this time with the Granite Mountain Hotshots. Bob Hoyt, a fellow pastor at Heights Church, said Mr. Whitted told him: “God just wants me to be a firefighter. I feel like I can be Christ to those firemen.”

Mr. Hoyt said Mr. Whitted had planned to remain with the Hotshots for perhaps another year. Then he wanted to have children with his wife, Kristi, whom he had married in 2011 after proposing aboard a hot air balloon.

— IAN LOVETT
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Clayton Whitted