The 19 members of Arizona's Granite Mountain Hotshots who were killed Sunday while battling the Yarnell wildfire were "heroes who selflessly put themselves in harm's way to protect the lives and property of fellow citizens they would never meet," President Barack Obama said Sunday.
The 19 elite Hotshot crewmen killed near Yarnell were trapped by the out-of-control wildfire that ignited Friday, according to azcentral.com.,
and then spread to nearly 8,000 acres by Sunday. The crew was based in Prescott.
"We are devastated. We just lost 19 of the finest people you will ever meet," Prescott Fire Chief Dan Fraijo said in a statement Sunday night. "We're going through a terrible crisis right now."
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The blaze that wiped out almost the entire 20-person crew marked the deadliest wildfire in 80 years. The only wildfires to kill more people were at Griffith Park in Los Angeles in 1933, where 29 people died, and the Devil's Broom inferno in Silverton, Idaho, in 1910, in which 86 firefighters lost their lives, according to the National Fire Protection Association.
The Hotshots tragedy was, however, the deadliest single incident for firefighters since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, which resulted in the deaths of 340 firefighters.
Hotshot crews — there are more than 100 in the U.S. — 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, The Associated Press reported.
"This is as dark a day as I can remember, with Arizona suffering the truly unimaginable loss of 19 wildland firefighters," Gov. 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. The risk is well-known to the brave men and women who don their gear and do battle against forest and flame."
Twitter was abuzz Monday with messages of support and gratitude for the Granite Mountain Hotshots.
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