(CBS News) -- Among the 19 firefighters killed Sunday in Arizona was 29-year-old Andrew Ashcraft. He was a father of four young children. His wife says he always thought of others before himself.
CBS News’ Carter Evans, who spoke with Juliann Ashcraft, reported on “CBS This Morning”: “When I spoke with Juliann...she had many questions. How did this happen? What’s the next step for she and her children? But there was no question her husband died doing something he loved, doing whatever he had to help others.”
Juliann Ashcraft told Evans about her loss, saying of her husband: “You know there are moments when I think of him and I smile because I love him so much and then I feel guilty for smiling, because I’m still in this shock. All the while, I have these precious babies that I just would just give anything to have a mother and father to tuck them in.”
Juliann Ashcraft always knew her husband had a dangerous job fighting wildfires, but he was one of the elite—a Granite Mountain Hotshot. “That’s why I never worried for their safety because they were trained,” she said. “They were the best of the best.”
But the Yarnell Hill fire was different. She knew it when she got a text message, along with a picture from her husband on the fire line.
Juliann Ashcraft said: “It was out of the ordinary for him, because he said ‘this is getting wild’ and ‘Peoples Valley an Yarnell are looking to burn.’ ... That is not common language, because usually he gets a thrill form the fire, a thrill from being there helping, and this was a different scenario.”
She had read reports online that firefighters had been killed, but didn’t know for sure her husband was a victim until authorities showed up at her front door.
“When I saw them, I just fell to the floor, because I knew,” she said.
Asked what she tells her kids, Juliann Ashcraft said: “I just tell them how amazing their dad is. I tell them how much he loves them and that he’s with them. I tell them we’ll be OK, and that I love them.”
What she couldn’t explain to her children—ages 6, 4, 2, and 1 -- was how their father died with 18 of his fellow Hotshots in fire shelters, a last resort.
Asked what probably went through his mind when he pulled out his fire shelter, Juliann Ashcraft said: “I think probably in that last moment, we have four babies. He’s selfless, and I think he thought of our kids and he thought of wishing he was home with them at that moment. He saved a lot of homes that people do go home to, but he’ll never come home to ours.
“I don’t think my daughter knows her dad is not going to walk her down the aisle, and my sons know he won’t be their coach and those sorts of things,” she continued. “I don’t know that that’s sunk in for them, but I’ve not stopped thinking about that. I’ve told them every chance I’ve gotten since then, ‘Your dad loves you, and he’s with you,’ and they just call him their angel and they said they’ll see him in heaven.”
Juliann Ashcraft said her children don’t understand “the finality of it.” She added: “They know that dad has died, but I think like much like an action figure comes back to life, I think that is their hope.”
Andrew Ashcraft and his fellow Hotshots, Juliann Ashcraft said, should be remembered as heroes: “I was married and will be married to a good man. And I want the world to know that they were heroes, and I would find the tallest mountain and shout how great they are. That’s what I want people to know. They are heroes. That they were loved. That they are missed and that they’re still going to live on in our lives and in the lives of our kids.”
Carter added on “CTM”: “Juliann told me she still has a lot of support around her right now. But she’s worried what will happen when the dust settles from all of this. She and 18 other families still won’t have fathers and husbands around for birthdays and holidays. Her own wedding anniversary is just a few weeks away.”