Robert Caldwell, 23
For Robert Caldwell, this was the best time of the year. It combined the things he loved most — fighting wildfires and Prescott’s annual rodeo. He would don his wranglers and cowboy hat and soak up every bit of the rodeo, especially the dances, said his older sister, Taylor Caldwell. But nothing compared to firefighting.
He had been doing it for about three years. Meticulous and smart, he was promoted to squad boss this season. It was grueling work, 16-hour days in torturous conditions, but when he spoke of it, “it was like a love affair,” said Thomas Holst, his best friend growing up.
Part of it was the brotherhood. Mr. Caldwell had grown up with many of the men on his team, and this season, his younger cousin, Grant McKee, had joined. He also died in the fire.
“If Robert was going to die, at least it was with his brothers, 18 of his brothers,” Ms. Caldwell said.
Mr. Caldwell was born in Pennsylvania but moved to Prescott with his family as a toddler. An avid outdoorsman, he loved the rugged terrain and being in it as often as he could.
Last November, he married after a whirlwind romance. His wife, Claire, had a 5-year-old son, Zion, with whom Mr. Caldwell fell in love. He wanted more children. His hope, he had told Mr. Holst, was for Ms. Caldwell to get pregnant in January so she would have the baby in the off season, when there were no fires.
“He left nothing to chance,” Mr. Holst said.