Friday, October 8, 2004

Hundreds attend funeral of Rochester native who died fighting Calif. fire


Democrat Staff Writer

ROCHESTER ó Dannyís smile was like the sun.

His spirit of adventure and love of the outdoors were the "thread that sewed" his friends and family together.

It was appropriate, they said, that the sun shone brightly at his funeral procession Thursday morning, in which roughly 150 uniformed firefighters marched through downtown in his memory.

Daniel "Danny" Holmes, 26, was killed Saturday after being struck by the burning top of a 100-foot white fir tree that unexpectedly fell as his team conducted a controlled burn in Kings Canyon National Park in California.

Danny, as his mother, Dee Burke, and his family called him, was part of the Arrowhead Hotshots, a National Park Service elite forestry firefighting squad based at the park.

Nearly 20 of those who saw the accident and tried to save his life were present to bear his casket down Main Street to the mournful strains of the International Brotherhood of Firefighters Pipe and Drum Corps.

In tears, Dannyís parents, brother, girlfriend, aunts and uncles followed his casket, but the separation of groups during the procession was not indicative of the common bond shared by everyone present.

His family clearly went beyond the bounds of blood relations to include his team, friends from home and fellow firefighters from across the nation.

"Heís just Danny ... people would meet him and walk away saying, Ďthatís the nicest guy Iíve ever met,í and thatís just Danny," cousin Andy Sanville said.

"I close my eyes and I see his smileó the smile and the laugh is the spirit of Danny, but he was even bigger than that. He lived his life in a way we all wished we could," Sanville eulogized.

His brother Matt, who flew up from Tampa, Fla., said Danny was a unifying force for his immediate and extended family.

"Dannyís love and energy was the thread that sewed everyone together. I know he thought of all of you (pointing to firefighters) as brothers," Matt assured them, speaking from the front of the United Methodist Church in Rochester.

Those who worked with Danny, both as a park ranger and an Arrowhead Hotshot had nothing but thanks for the energy and commitment he showed on the job.

Above all else was his infectious love of the outdoors, something everyone "blamed" on his mother.

"Danny was always energized ... he was someone that genuinely loved the outdoors. Iíve never been around someone like that before him," said Climbing Ranger Dan Leonard of the Denali National Park in Alaska.

The two were close friends who trained and were certified together in Washington state.

Also present was Dannyís girlfriend, Jules, who flew out with the Hotshots for the funeral. The last picture taken of Danny was for her, but it showed the smile that blessed everyone who saw it.

"They (the Hotshots) all pitched in to get me a ticket out here. I donít know what to say ... Iíve never been loved so completely by anyone, and heís gone ... this was my picture, he took it for me," Jules whispered, holding up the funeral bulletin with a picture of Danny in active duty gear on the front.

It was Dannyís death while on active duty that drew firefighters from across the Seacoast, state and country.

The procession of more than 150 firefighters, forestry rangers, National Park units, firetrucks and rescue workers began at Edgerly Funeral home just after 10 a.m.

Color guard from the National Park Service led the way, as members of the New Hampshire firefighterís color guard followed to the sound of bagpipes.

Dannyís flag-draped coffin was borne by members of the Hotshots, who marched alongside Rochesterís funeral-draped Engine 2. His casket rested atop the engine.

The parade presented his casket to the front of the church to the strains of funeral music, marking Dannyís all-to-quick return to the earth he loved.

Sun shimmered along rows of medals and full dress gear, while the tracks of tears stood prominent on many somber faces.

"Weíre just glad itís so beautiful. We know itís Danny smiling down on us from this last great adventure heís on now," Sanville said.


© 2004 Geo. J. Foster Company