CEDAR CITY — Friends and neighbors Tuesday remembered a Utah native killed along with 18 other expert firefighters in an Arizona wildfire as someone who was a family man above all, and somebody who went out of his way to help others.
"It's just hard, hard to believe it," said John Froyd, a longtime neighbor to the family of Joe Thurston in Cedar City. "They were one of the elite, highly trained units and could go actually anywhere in the world."
Thurston,32, was a Granite Mountain Hotshots crew member. He leaves behind a wife and two children.
"Definitely a really good husband and family man," said Scott Goodrich, a friend from Thurston's school days. "He was very devoted to caring for his kids and looking out for them. They were a number-one priority."
Goodrich recalled days filled with camping and swimming with his friend. They were in a band together. Thurston played the drums.
"He was the first friend that most people would go to if they needed some help with something," Goodrich said. "He was definitely one of those guys who was always smiling. He would show up to any situation with a smile on his face, no matter what it was."
Froyd's children played with Thurston when he was young.
"He seemed to be very focused and knew what he wanted to do," Froyd said. "He was just a dedicated individual."
Another neighbor, who asked not to be identified, said the loss is devastating the the neighborhood.
"Once we found out he was a firefighter and a really good one, we were so proud to see what he had become," the neighbor said. "We're an old neighborhood in Cedar City and many of us have been here for decades. Our hearts go out to Joe and his family."
Thurston attended Cedar High School and graduated in 1999. He then attended Southern Utah University.
According to a website set up to disseminate information about the deceased firefighters, their remains were being transported to Phoenix, where they were to be released to family members.
Neighbors said Thurston's mother had already left for Arizona.
"Things happen and I'm sure (Thurston's mother) is still very proud of Joe, as are we," Froyd said.