Joe Ybarra of Indianapolis spent more than a year fighting wildfires in Idaho and Nevada, a time when he relied on his faith in God and the power of the rosary to protect him. CNS photo/courtesy of Joe Ybarra

Rosary helps firefighter battle mountainside blaze

By  John Shaughnessy, Catholic News Service
  • September 9, 2022

INDIANAPOLIS -- Joe Ybarra reached for his rosary as the wildfire raged across the Idaho mountainside, threatening his life and the lives of seven other U.S. Forest Service firefighters.

As the flames rushed toward the team, Ybarra held his rosary beads and prayed that he would be safe so he could return to his family and friends in Indiana.

At first, the threat was minimal when the fire on Scarface Mountain began Aug. 7, 2021. Arriving on the scene by helicopter, the firefighters noticed that the blaze appeared to be dying following a dousing of water from an airborne fire crew.

Ybarra recalled how the wind kicked up quickly, causing the flames to roar again. The fire and smoke was so dense firefighters had difficulty seeing, forcing them to rush back to their base camp, which they had to abandon to get to safety.

The group’s commander instructed them to ready their fire shelters , which can help someone survive for more than an hour surrounded by intense flames.

“The prospect had me worried because they are typically used as a last resort,” Ybarra said.

“As my mind began racing, I grabbed my radio, a water bottle, my fire shelter and my rosary and waited to see what the fire would do. When I found my rosary, it was then my racing mind stopped.”

Seconds later, helicopters dropped water on the blaze and shuttled the team to safety. One thought filled Ybarra’s mind: “I felt God had answered my prayers.”

The Scarface Mountain fire raged for nearly four weeks, scorching 88,000 acres. Coming face to face with a wildfire didn’t dampen Ybarra’s enthusiasm to be a firefighter. It also inflamed the 32-year-old’s trust in God.

In the year since, Ybarra became a firefighter near Indianapolis. He also became a member of St. Mark the Evangelist Parish. His journey to both points has been marked by twists and turns, forged by fire and faith.

Ybarra’s faith journey leads back to his mother, who faced her own life-threatening situation when civil war raged in her homeland of Nicaragua during the 1970s and 1980s.

After immigrating to the United States, she married and gave birth to Ybarra, instilling her Catholic faith -- and her belief in the power of the Rosary -- in him.

“She prayed the rosary, through the good, through the bad,” said Ybarra. “It was a constant in her life.”

In nature’s beauty and fury, Ybarra found God’s presence was constant. He also carried another constant with him, his rosary. It has been with him every day since he started as a firefighter. Most of his emergency runs have been medical in nature. He finds it rewarding to calm people in serious pain as well as family members and to be thanked for his work.

He has the same gratitude for the presence of God in his life when he starts each day with prayer.

Please support The Catholic Register

Unlike many media companies, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our website. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith-based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.