Brendan McDonough, 21, was in his third season with the 20-member, Prescott-based Granite Mountain Hotshots.
He was assigned to be a "heads-up on the hillside" for the team on that fateful afternoon two days ago, said Wade Ward, a Prescott Fire Department spokesman who relayed McDonough's story at an afternoon news conference.
Ward said McDonough "did exactly what he was supposed to" when conditions changed as his team fought the mountain blaze near the town of Yarnell, about 80 miles northwest of Phoenix.
He notified the other Hotshots that the weather was changing rapidly and told them the fire had switched direction because of the wind. He also told them he was leaving the area and to contact him on the radio if they needed anything, Ward said.
Ward received a standing ovation as he implored the media, "Please leave him alone."
McDonough "has no desire to speak to anybody at this point," he said. "He's trying to deal with the same things that we're all trying to deal with, but you can understand how that's compounded being there on the scene."