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Community holds Sunday vigil for firefighters

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Roswell Fire Department Chief Devin Graham, his daughter Nissi and RFD lieutenants Daniel Fuller and Derek Washichek gather during a vigil held Sunday for two firefighters injured during an explosion on June 5 while fireworks were being prepared for the city’s Fourth of July celebration. (David Rocha Photo)

Local first responders and residents gathered on the lawn of the Chaves County Courthouse Sunday evening for an hour-long vigil, as they prayed for two injured firefighters and emergency personnel.

The vigil comes a little more than a week after two Roswell Fire Department firefighters — Jeff Stroble, 46, and Robert “Hoby” Bonham, 36 — were critically injured in a June 5 explosion south of Roswell. Stroble, Bonham and 10 other fire department personnel were preparing fireworks for this year’s Fourth of July celebration when the explosion occurred.

Bonham and Stroble have since been receiving treatment at a medical facility in Lubbock, Texas. Both men remain in critical condition.

Sunday night’s vigil included statements by Roswell Fire Chief Devin Graham, collective prayer and the singing of traditional religious songs. Sean Lee, connections pastor at Grace Community Church, led the crowd in prayer.

Justin Powell, chief of Dexter Fire & Rescue, said before the event began that he organized it at the request of Nicole Vargus of the local Adopt-a-Solider program.

The condition of Bonham and Stroble dominated conversation at the vigil. Powell said he has been following the recovery of the two men from posts their families have made on Facebook. He said Bonham has been making a lot of progress.

“He got to talk to his kids on FaceTime and stuff, so he is in a lot better mood,” he said.

Stroble is doing better, but “he needs all of our prayers,” Powell added.

“There is just a lot more surgeries ahead on him and he is going to need everything he can get,” he said.

Roswell firefighters as well as those from Dexter and other local volunteer departments were in the audience. For many, news of the explosion impacted them.

Ginger Gonzales, who volunteers with Dexter Fire & Rescue and who has a son who is a firefighter, said news of the explosion hit close to home for her.

“It definitely touches home,” Gonzales said.

Graham noted the outpouring of support evident in the large number of fundraisers for Stroble and Bonham’s families. He said that as a community and as a department God will help see Roswell through this hardship.

Lee spoke extensively to the crowd, noting the sacrifices first responders make.

“And so ordinary citizens like me, we are so thankful for you and we are thankful for the job that you do,” he said to the crowd.

Breaking news reporter Alex Ross can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 301, or at breakingnews@rdrnews.com.