Karina Bland introduces herself as she prepares to start a new Republic column.
Karina Bland, The Republic |

Her heart dropped when she saw the news that a firefighter had been killed fighting the wildfires in California, his fiancée pregnant with their first child.

Brian Hughes, 33, a captain with the National Parks Service’s Arrowhead Interagency Hotshots, had been struck by a tree while removing brush near Yosemite National Park.

Roxanne Warneke instantly understood what his fiancée was going through, and what she would face.

Roxanne had been almost four months along in her pregnancy in 2013 when she got the news her that her husband, firefighter Billy Warneke, had been killed by a raging blaze in Yarnell.

It was the deadliest wildfire ever in Arizona, taking the lives of 19 men on the Granite Mountain Hotshot crew.

Roxanne named the baby Billie Grace, after her father. They had chosen the middle name together.

“Losing your partner during pregnancy is extremely painful, especially when people tell you, ‘at least he left you something to remember him,’” Roxanne said. It’s more complicated than that.

Brian had been excited to be a father and had asked other fathers on his crew for advice. Billy had done the same.

“Every baby kick, every milestone is a reminder that you are experiencing a joyous occasion alone,” Roxanne said, “and not having his support in the delivery room is downright frightening.”

She posted about it on Facebook, asking people to help. A GoFundMe account for the family has raised more than $80,000 in just a few days.

Roxanne wants to remind people about the risk these firefighters take and encourage them to help by fireproofing their properties and evacuating when ordered.

Billie Grace is 4 now and carries a pillow with her daddy’s picture on it. Roxanne is one of the founders of the Wildland Firefighter Guardian Institute, a non-profit advocacy group, and takes Billie Grace with her when she meets with firefighters.

Because even though Billie Grace never got to meet her father, she will remember him.

Reach Karina at [email protected] or 602-444-8614.






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