Flanked by Morongo firefighters, Jose Zambrano jogged across the Morongo Indian Reservation on Monday wearing a fire helmet, heavy turnouts and an oxygen tank as part of his 360-mile run from Los Angeles to Arizona in honor of the fallen Granite Mountain Hotshots.
“This is not for me. This is for the 19 men of the Granite Mountain Hotshots and for their families. We want them to know that we will never forget their brave sacrifice,” said Zambrano, 47, of Corona, who arrived at the Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial State Park in Yarnell, Ariz. on June 30 to mark the fifth anniversary of the fire crew’s deaths.
Known as ‘Fireman Joe,’ Zambrano ran from Corona to Morongo on June 24 where he received a hero’s welcome at the Morongo Fire Department with a hot meal, a place to sleep and the admiration of the Morongo firefighters.
Following breakfast Monday morning, he set out, running purposely in the hot morning sun as Morongo firefighters jogged beside him to escort him across the reservation. Near Malki and Seminole roads, the Morongo firefighters peeled off, sending Zambrano on his way with salutes and cheers of encouragement.
“We’re deeply honored to be hosting Fireman Joe during his inspirational journey to remember the brave Granite Mountain Hotshots who paid the ultimate price to protect others,” said Morongo Tribal Chairman Robert Martin. “His run should serve as a reminder to us all to be thankful for the men and women of the fire service who put their lives on the line to protect our communities.”
Zambrano, who has run marathons in full firefighter turnouts for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and other organizations, started his run at the Los Angeles Fire Museum on June 23.
His route took him through Twentynine Palms as he ran between 10 to 12 hours per day to Arizona in the summer sun.
The tragic deaths of the Granite Mountain Hotshots were the subject of the 2017 film, Only the Brave, starring Josh Brolin. The tight-knit team of wildfire experts were overwhelmed by a fast-moving blaze driven by fierce winds that had cut off their evacuation route.
Zambrano said he was inspired to make the run after getting to know the family of fallen hotshot Kevin J. Woyjeck. The 21-year-old Woyjeck was following in the footsteps of his father, Joe, a Los Angeles County Fire Department fire captain, when he joined the Prescott Fire Department’s Granite Mountain Hotshots just three months before the tragedy.
Zambrano carried with him 19 flags which he planned to lay at the memorial for each of the fallen firefighters.
As part of his run, Zambrano is also raising funds for the Kevin Woyjeck Explorers for Life Association, a non-profit organization started by Woyjeck’s family, and friends to honor Kevin and carry on his legacy. The foundation assists young men and women in Fire Explorer Programs with financial support and material donations.
“The emotion carries me,” Zambrano said of the run. “When you’re out there running, it’s just your thoughts and your conversations with the All Mighty. That’s what carries you. I hope that this inspires others, and reminds people of the 19 brothers we lost.”
“Fireman Joe is an incredible guy, and we feel privileged to have played some small role in helping him on his epic run,” said Morongo Fire Chief Kevin Gaines.
Morongo’s tribal government maintains automatic and mutual aid agreements with numerous surrounding emergency services agencies. Along with serving the reservation, the 21-member Morongo Fire Department routinely deploys personnel and equipment to assist in fighting fires across the nation, from the 2017 Napa County and Mariposa County fires to blazes in Oregon and other western states.