PHOENIX — Nineteen firefighters were killed on Sunday battling a fast-moving wildfire menacing a small town in central Arizona.
Tom Story/The Arizona Republic, via Associated Press
The fire burned through the town of Yarnell.
The firefighters died fighting the Yarnell Hill Fire near the town of Yarnell, about 80 miles northwest of Phoenix. Steve Skurja, a spokesman for the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office, said there were “several fires still active” in the Yarnell area. In a search of the scene, Mr. Skurja said, crews found the bodies of the firefighters.
They were members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, a specialist team of wildfire fighters based in Prescott, Ariz., said Mike Reichling, a spokesman for the Tempe Fire Department. He declined to identify the men until their families had been notified.
“This is as dark a day as I can remember,” Arizona’s governor, Jan Brewer, said in a statement. “It may be days or longer before an investigation reveals how this tragedy occurred, but the essence we already know in our hearts: fighting fires is dangerous work,” she said. ”When a tragedy like this strikes, all we can do is offer our eternal gratitude to the fallen, and prayers for the families and friends left behind. God bless them all.”
The firefighters had to deploy their emergency shelters when “something drastic happened,” Fire Chief Dan Fraijo of Prescott told The Associated Press.
The crew killed in the blaze had worked other wildfires in recent weeks in New Mexico and Arizona. The unit was established in 2002.
In a Facebook post, the United States Wildland Fire Aviation Service asked “for prayers for the families and friends of these brave men and women.”
Until Sunday, Arizona had suffered 21 firefighter fatalities in wildfires since 1955, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.
“It started on Friday with a lightning strike, and it’s grown,” Mr. Reichling said, citing weather conditions on Sunday. The fire is spread across “well over 2,000 acres,” he said, and had “brought down half of the town of Yarnell. It has decimated that town.”
The town had been evacuated previously, he said. A reverse 911 call was sent, and sheriff’s deputies alerted residents.
More than 200 firefighters were on the scene Sunday night, “minus the 19 we have lost,” Mr. Reichling said. The authorities planned to double that number by Monday, he said. Helicopters and a DC-10 jet, dropping slurry, were also aiding the effort.
When asked how under control the fire was, Mr. Reichling replied: “Not very. Right now we have zero containment.”
According to government figures, the fire Sunday represents the largest number of firefighters killed in one wildfire since a 1933 blaze in California which killed 25, and the largest loss of firefighters since 341 died in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Mr. Skurja said officials had decided to allow many homes in the area to burn, because the crews were having such a hard time; The Arizona Republic reported that about half the town’s 500 homes were expected to be destroyed.
About 14 Yarnell-area residents had arrived Sunday afternoon at a shelter at Yavapai College near Prescott, Brian Gomez, spokesman for the Red Cross Grand Canyon Chapter, told The Republic. He said the power went out because of monsoons but was restored.
More people were expected to need shelter as officials ordered further evacuations, Mr. Gomez said, and the Red Cross was ready to open a shelter at Wickenburg High School.
Ravi Somaiya contributed reporting from New York.
Not a question, so to speak, but I feel that heroes who give their lives selflessly in the defense of others need to be acknowledged and remembered
Praying for all those effected by this horrible tragedy. It's so sad. The avg. age of those firefighters was 22 y/o. I have a son who's 22 y/o. Things like this just make my heart break. :(
Answer by mrsmom110 at 7:23 AM on Jul. 1, 2013
Answer by MooNFaeRie30 at 6:50 AM on Jul. 1, 2013
Answer by Alisim at 9:49 AM on Jul. 1, 2013
Answer by kmath at 10:01 AM on Jul. 1, 2013
Answer by virginiamama71 at 2:03 PM on Jul. 1, 2013
Answer by QuinnMae at 5:22 PM on Jul. 1, 2013
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