Grandfather of firefighter killed in Arizona wildfire remembers grandson fondly

Says Billy Warneke wanted to be firefighter at 6

SAN JACINTO - A somber ceremony was held Monday night for 19 firefighters killed in Arizona, including two firefighters from nearby Hemet in Riverside County.

10News reporter Jennifer Jensen traveled to Hemet on Monday to meet with one victim's family and learned how fire fighting became a life goal for him when he was just 6 years old.

"He wasn't after just a regular fireman job. He wanted to be with the best: the Hotshot crew,” said Jack Warneke, grandfather of William "Billy" Warneke.

Billy Warneke was among the best. He was part of the elite crew from the Granite Mountain Hotshots and was killed Sunday while trying to protect others.

"Even then I didn't want to believe it, even when I saw it on the news," said Jack. "I went, 'That's probably it.'"

Jack was wearing a shirt from his grandson, which was a reminder of his service as a U.S. Marine. Warneke served one tour in Iraq where he was trained as a sharp shooter.

"Born and raised in Hemet … As soon as he graduated, he went in the Marines," Jack added.

He said his 25-year-old grandson just joined the Hotshot crew just two months ago. Prior to the Arizona fire, the Prescott Hotshots had been in New Mexico fighting another fire.

His grandfather told 10News that it was on his 6th birthday when Warneke first knew he wanted to become a firefighter, by climbing a tree in his grandfather's front yard.

"That's Billy up at the top," said Jack, as he showed 10News home video of Warneke, his older brother and younger cousin playing in the tree. "They didn't play cowboys and Indians, they played firemen … He just kept going until he got his goal to be on the elite crew."

Another Hemet-raised firefighter was also killed in Prescott on Sunday. Chris MacKenzie was the son of former Moreno Valley Cal Fire Captain Mike MacKenzie.

Both MacKenzie and Warneke graduated from Hemet High School: MacKenzie in 2001, Warneke in 2005.

Warneke and his wife Roxy were expecting their first child later this year.

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