Lone Arizona Hotshot Survivor Recounts Tragic Fire

Brendan McDonough lost 19 friends in the Yarnell Hill fire and asks why he was spared.
7:55 | 08/08/13

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Transcript for Lone Arizona Hotshot Survivor Recounts Tragic Fire
How to wildfire caused the deaths of nineteen of the most prepared and bravest fire fighting pros. And why -- only one of their team of twenty lived to tell the tale. It seemed like a manageable fire at first until a shift in the wind changed everything. Tonight the lone survivor talks to us and ABC news exclusive about what happened during those final hours who made those last calls including the decision. That saved his life. Here's ABC's Brian Ross. -- -- The first report of what happened on that fateful day in -- -- Arizona came in this -- radio call from a paramedic. We're down to the charge C. -- -- -- -- Nineteen confirmed fatalities. Nineteen under the twenty members of the firefighting team called the granite mountain hot shots. The start of the pop up front away. What led to the deaths of the experienced team of hot shots remains under official investigation. But now for the first time the lone survivor Brendan that -- is talking publicly. But what he saw and heard how he survived. Just passed a million times. YA -- sitting here. And why -- someone else -- -- it with me. All wildfires can become dangerous everything seemed normal not threatening this the typical day going direct -- -- fire. But at first this one last June when a rocky hillside outside the small town of Jarno seem nothing out of the ordinary to -- done those hotshot team. It's relatively small fire compared to other fires we've been on. Rocky country. -- And beyond. One of the hot shots Andrew ash craft even took a moment while they -- -- to take this photo and text it to his -- I mean just normal workday cast. Party. By the time Brendan and the other hot -- survived -- -- -- aerial tankers had already been dropping chemical retardant to slow the spread of the fire. To no avail. But their chief Daryl Willis says the team was up to the tax. They're all excited. You know they're going to a fire. It's their day off and they're excited about -- community officer -- make some overtime from where we where you can see the fire pretty well -- -- over the sea of fire and what is doing and that's when the superintendent. And our captain asked -- to be look out. That would be the assignment that would separated him from the others and save -- life. Based on -- subscription and those of fire officials the nineteen others were here unable to see the fire from around a ridgeline. McDonough -- station here able to see both the fire and the other hot shots. House down low able to look back -- And able to look at the fire to the same time and everything seem. Normal yet -- threatening yet everything seemed normal not threatening around 345 in the afternoon everything changed. The winds that had been driving the fire away from the hot shots began to shift dramatically. At that point -- can -- the fired party instead of moving north. It started moving south toward issue yet instead of backing towards us is -- become. Racing -- Yes. McDonald's says the team around the ridge could now see what was happening contradicting some accounts that they were unaware -- fire was heading toward. They could see -- as -- yes -- And this if you need to get out of there go ahead and get we can see that's gone on. -- once you say to. Iceland he was short and -- if anything -- Among other enemy fire in -- hand on hand by these are part. It's okay -- Just -- Captain -- seasons okay. That was the less time McDonnell talked. He was at what firefighters call that trigger point in time to make a move so when you -- might trigger point. I'm going yet -- could see me getting off our rock and should they have left them to. That's not something. That's not my decision. You wonder about nine never questioned decisions it made. And never question before -- -- question now. -- their fall was not bad decision. As the fire picked up speed now moving at about a quarter of a mile a minute Donald made his way out of the path of the flames. And. Then very bad news his team have been forced to deploy their individual emergency fire shelters last -- -- It's not something anyone here has been a lot cancer people survived so there's there's hope now. But the fire was incredibly intense flames fifty feet high with thick smoke and the radios we're now silent. Where were you thinking when -- heard. Why was -- there -- And to pray. For their safety. And pray that BO seeming -- from the -- is what. Once the smoke began to clear the paramedic who was lowered to the area found what he later called. A moonscape appearance as he got closer to the site the paramedic reported. I could hear voices coming from the area of the shelters I yelled up to the shoulders repeatedly but received no response. As I approach to shelters I observed multiple firefighters. Who were obviously deceased and -- black. I walked into the children deployment site and determine that the voices I have heard for coming from still functioning radios. The paramedic radioed in his awful discovery. And easy to contact. Your 400 -- want. I think. -- -- Now still with our vehicles. And one of the -- I can hear. Whoever -- bring that -- right here phones thing. Knowing that as their wives. The family. -- -- -- -- unless you know something of myself. Can. In the six weeks since Brendan -- has been suffering that -- the -- Grieving in private and putting on a brave face in public. Coming home -- -- the worst thing ever knowing that these families would see me. And not anyone else Tucker. Now. I was born Christmas. Do you torment yourself and think I wish I had done this -- this something you could have done. There's nothing I could have done besides -- been up on the hill someone else from my position. -- been -- -- and so there's nothing else I can. I did everything that was expected. The chain link fence outside the granite mountain hot shots headquarters has become a memorial of sorts. Welcome but painful reminders for the young -- who says he has no hero. Do you think it is suffers from zero. I distinctive you know myself just. -- I look at the heroes of who -- their lives you're prepared to. Yes I would've. Were blessed my hot shot through. My family. -- -- -- At a memorial service in front of the families and the Governor Palin as vice president through the young -- read a prayer and all is lost firefighting Brothers. Thank you -- I miss my Brothers. For Nightline this is Brian Ross ABC didn't.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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