19 Prescott firefighters die after deploying shelters
Gusty, hot winds blew an
Arizona blaze out of control Sunday in a forest northwest of Phoenix,
overtaking and killing 19 members of an elite fire crew in the deadliest
wildfire involving firefighters in the U.S. for at least 30 years.
firefighters were forced to deploy their emergency fire shelters — tent-like
structures meant to shield firefighters from flames and heat — when they were
caught near the central Arizona town of Yarnell, state forestry spokesman Art
Morrison told The Associated Press.
The fire also destroyed an
estimated 200 homes, Morrison said. Dry grass near the communities of Yarnell
and Glen Isla fed the fast-moving blaze, which was whipped up by wind and raced
through the homes, he said.
The fire still burned late
Sunday, with flames lighting up the night sky in the forest above Yarnell, a
town of about 700 residents about 85 miles northwest of Phoenix [and about 82 miles southwest of TT Verde
Valley, our campground]. Most people had evacuated from the town, and no
injuries or other deaths were reported.
The fire started after a
lightning strike on Friday and spread to at least 2,000 acres on Sunday amid
triple-digit temperatures, low humidity and windy conditions.
Prescott Fire Chief Dan
Fraijo said that the 19 dead firefighters were a part of the city's fire
"We grieve for the
family. We grieve for the department. We grieve for the city," he said at
a news conference Sunday evening. "We're devastated. We just lost 19 of
the finest people you'll ever meet."
Hot shot crews are elite
firefighters who often hike for miles into the wilderness with chain saws and
backpacks filled with heavy gear to build lines of protection between people
and fires. They remove brush, trees and anything that might burn in the
direction of homes and cities.
The crew killed in the blaze
had worked other wildfires in recent weeks in New Mexico and Arizona, Fraijo
"By the time they got
there, it was moving very quickly," he told the AP of Sunday's fire.
He added that the
firefighters had to deploy the emergency shelters when "something
"One of the last fail
safe methods that a firefighter can do under those conditions is literally to
dig as much as they can down and cover themselves with a protective — kinda
looks like a foil type — fire-resistant material — with the desire, the hope at
least, is that the fire will burn over the top of them and they can survive
it," Fraijo said.
conditions there's usually only sometimes a 50 percent chance that they
survive," he said. "It's an extreme measure that's taken under the
absolute worst conditions."
The National Fire
Protection Association had previously listed the deadliest wildland fire
involving firefighters as the 1994 Storm King Fire near Glenwood Springs,
Colo., which killed 14 firefighters who were overtaken by a sudden explosion of flames.
[Sidebar: I talked with a friend of ours who lives in Prescott this morning. She said all of the "hotshot" firefighters who were killed were from Prescott. They were the best of the best. It is really sad. Prescott is where we met Becky and Richard for lunch on Saturday, the day before the tragedy.]