19 Firefighters Killed in Yarnell Fire; Worst Arizona Wildfire Disaster

Image: 19 Firefighters Killed in Yarnell Fire; Worst Arizona Wildfire Disaster

Monday, 01 Jul 2013 09:45 AM

By Clyde Hughes

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Nineteen firefighters were killed by a massive wildfire in Yarnell over the weekend. The 19 firefighters killed were the most in Arizona in decades.

The out-of-control Yarnell fire, an Arizona wildfire started by a lightning strike northwest of Phoenix, killed 19 and emergency crews struggled on Sunday to contain the blaze.

Officials are calling the Arizona blaze the deadliest U.S. wildfire in 30 years as it continued to burn Monday. Art Morrison, an Arizona forestry spokesman said the 19 elite firefighters were trapped and killed while fighting the fast moving fire aided by strong winds near the town of Yarnell, the Associated Press reported.

"We grieve for the family," Prescott Fire Chief Dan Fraijo told the AP on Sunday. He said the firefighters were part of his department. "We grieve for the department. We grieve for the city. We're devastated. We just lost 19 of the finest people you'll ever meet."

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The fire that claimed 19 firefighters started Friday, according to KNXV-TV in Phoenix. It tripled in size in a matter of hours Sunday, from 2,000 acres to 6,000 acres as of 11:30 p.m., Incident Commander Mike Reichling told KNXV. Reichling said the firefighters were surprised when winds changed direction and they were forced to deploy their fire shelters.

Reichling told the television station that dry vegetation and the intense temperatures fueled the fire through Sunday.

KNXV-TV reported that half of Yarnell's 500 structures had been destroyed so far in the blaze as some 250 firefighters continued battling the fire. Reichling told KNXV that as many as 250 more emergency crews were expected to join them Monday. He said nearby Yavapai Community College and Wickenburg High School were being used as evacuation centers.

The AP reported that the National Fire Protection Association had previously listed a 1994 fire near Glenwood Springs, Colo., as the deadliest wildfire involving firefighters. That blaze overtook and killed 14 firefighters.

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Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer office told the AP that she planned on traveling to the region Monday. President Barack Obama called the 19 firefighters heroes in a statement to the AP. Obama said the federal government was assisting state and local officials.

"This is as dark a day as I can remember," 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."

Related stories:

Crews Battle to Save Colo. Town as Wildfire Grows

California Wildfire Destroys 24 Homes, Consumes 30,000 acres

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