PRESCOTT – It was a good day for Dianna Stitt.
Around mid-morning Tuesday, the Yarnell resident found out she was one of the fortunate few inside the Red Cross shelter at Yavapai College in Prescott. Her home had been spared by the Yarnell Hill Fire.
A couple hours later, Stitt couldn’t help but smile when Cardinals defensive lineman David Carter, part of a team contingent that visited some affected by the fire, walked into the gymnasium that’s now her temporary home. Carter spent about two hours talking with displaced families, taking pictures, signing autographs and simply raising the spirits of a town in mourning, not just for their homes but for the 19 firefighters killed Sunday.
“It gives a lot of people more hope,” Stitt said. “We’re laughing. We’re doing a lot better today.”
Carter’s visit came a couple hours after Cardinals President Michael Bidwill donated $100,000 to the 100 Club of Arizona, which provides immediate financial assistance to the families of public safety officers or firefighters who are seriously hurt or killed in the line of duty – including those who perished in the Yarnell Hill Fire.
“Our hearts go out to all of those affected by the devastating and tragic events this week, especially the families of the 19 brave members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots who lost their lives serving our community,” Bidwill said in a statement released by the team. “Our team is proud to assist the ongoing efforts and encourage our fans, the community and Arizona businesses to support these relief initiatives.”
Stitt and Thomas Barton said they were on their property a couple weeks ago when the Hotshots, the elite firefighting unit that was a division of the Prescott Fire Department, drove by, heading into the fire. Stitt and Barton waved and shouted at the yellow-clad men, who, Barton added, waved back.
At that point in her story, Stitt couldn’t control her emotions.
“That was the last time we saw them.”
That’s what made Carter’s visit important to the 81 people inside the gym. For a few minutes they forgot about the fire, about whether or not their homes survived, about their friends and family members also impacted by the blaze.
“You can see the spirits right now, everyone’s smiling, having a good time,” said Josh Avery, Stitt’s son. “Kids are smiling when they have that big dog come in.”
The big dog might have been the biggest hit of all.
Barney, a 180-pound Saint Bernard, is Nicole Bidwill's certified therapy dog. Barney often accompanies Bidwill, daughter of team owner Bill Bidwill, at community events and the dog sparked memories of the 1992 movie “Beethoven” for adults and provided a diversion for the children.
“It’s been wonderful but it’s heartbreaking,” Nicole Bidwill said. “You can tell they’re just in shock of what’s going on. It’s been nice to see them when they’re with the dog. You can see their anxiety level goes down and they think about something else other than their own problems.
“He was especially great for the kids. For the kids, it was something else to think about. It puts a smile on their faces.”
Carter spent a few minutes talking to a group of kids about playing football and growing up with a brother. He shared pointers with a set of football-playing brothers and then passed on a few words about how important family is, especially at a time like this.
Charles Bird, a 15-year-old from Utah, had been visiting family in Arizona for about a month when he was displaced to the shelter. For the last three days, he’s lived on a cot a few feet above a gym floor watching his younger brother fall into a slight depression.
But when Carter walked in, Bird, his brother and a handful of kids flocked to him almost immediately.
“They were kind of down when I walked in there,” Carter said. “We had the big dog and all the kids got excited. It was great to see smiles on their faces, and not worrying about their house.
“It was a great experience. It warmed me up on the inside, I was giving hugs and people are happy right now just because I’m here. It was great to show them how much I care.”
Carter spent time sitting at tables with people while they ate lunch, sitting in a circle on the floor with another group and chatting up whoever caught his attention.
Talking was Carter’s way of offering his support. It wasn’t very long into any of Carter’s conversations when a smile burst onto the faces around him. He got to know people and they got to know him.
For a few minutes Tuesday, they forgot what was awaiting them back in Yarnell.
“The guy is cool. He’s alright,” said Tex Gilligan, who said he arrived at the shelter Saturday without a change of clothes. “It gives you a lift because he’s a positive person. You feel so lifted up because people care. The guy doesn’t have to do this. He’s got a heart to do this.”