19 Firefighters Killed In Arizona Wildfire

(Image 1)

YARNELL, Ariz.
(AP) — A wildfire that killed nearly 20 members of an elite fire crew
trying to help protect homes in a small central Arizona town has
quadrupled in size, to 13 square miles.

Arizona
State Forestry Division spokesman Mike Reichling said Monday that 18
“hotshot” fire crews are now battling the blaze, approximately 85 miles
northwest of Phoenix, and more are expected.

On
Sunday, the lightning-sparked fire killed 18 members of a 20-member
hotshot crew based in nearby Prescott. Reichling says one other person
also was killed but has not been identified.

The
fire on Sunday spread to at least 2,000 acres amid triple-digit
temperatures, destroying dozens of homes and sending hundreds fleeing
from the community of Yarnell.

Reichling says the blaze is now at 8,374 acres, with zero containment.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

An
out-of-control blaze overtook an elite group of firefighters trained to
battle the nation's fiercest wildfires, killing 19 members as they
tried to protect themselves from the flames under fire-resistant
shields.

It was the most firefighters killed battling a wildfire in the U.S. in decades.

The
lightning-sparked fire, which spread to at least 2,000 acres amid
triple-digit temperatures, also destroyed 200 homes and sent hundreds
fleeing from Yarnell, a town of about 700 residents about 85 miles
northwest of Phoenix. Residents huddled in shelters and local
restaurants, watching their homes burn on TV as flames lit up the night
sky in the forest above the town.

The disaster
Sunday afternoon all but wiped out the 20-member Hotshot fire crew
based in nearby Prescott, leaving the city's fire department reeling.

“We
grieve for the family. We grieve for the department. We grieve for the
city,” Prescott Fire Chief Dan Fraijo said at a news conference Sunday
evening. “We're devastated. We just lost 19 of the finest people you'll
ever meet.”

A total of 250 firefighters and
support personnel were assigned to the fire as of Sunday. Fire managers
said a top-level management team and another four Hotshot crews were on
the way Monday. They typically have 20 members each.

Spokesmen for fire managers did not immediately respond to requests for comment early Monday.

The
National Weather Service said there's a 30 percent of thunderstorms and
showers Monday in the Yarnell area. Rain could help slow the fire, but
the forecast also says the storms could produce gusty winds.

Television
aerial video footage showed law enforcement vehicles patrolling
Yarnell, driving streets with burned buildings on both sides.

The
National Fire Protection Association website lists the last wildland
fire to kill more firefighters as the 1933 Griffith Park fire of Los
Angeles, which killed 29. The most firefighters – 340 – were killed in
the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York, according to the website.

Most people had evacuated from the town, and no injuries or other deaths were reported.

Hotshot
crews go through specialized training and are often deployed soon after
a fire breaks out. Sometimes they 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. This crew
had worked other wildfires in recent weeks in New Mexico and Arizona.

As
a last-ditch effort at survival, Hotshot crew members are trained to
dig into the ground and cover themselves with the tent-like shelter made
of fire-resistant material, Fraijo said. The hope in that desperate
situation is that the fire will burn over them and they will survive.

“It's an extreme measure that's taken under the absolute worst conditions,” Fraijo said.

Nineteen
fire shelters were deployed, and some of the firefighters were found
inside them, while others were outside the shelters, Mike Reichling,
Arizona State Forestry Division spokesman, told the Arizona Republic.

Prescott,
which is more than 30 miles northeast of Yarnell, is home to one of 110
Hotshot crews in the United States, according to the U.S. Forest
Service website. The unit was established in 2002, and the city also has
75 suppression team members.

In 1994, the
Storm King Fire near Glenwood Springs, Colo., killed 14 firefighters who
were overtaken by a sudden explosion of flames.

President
Barack Obama called the 19 firefighters heroes and said in a statement
that the federal government was assisting state and local officials.

“This
is as dark a day as I can remember,” 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.”

Brewer said she would travel to the area on Monday.

As
the blaze spread, people started fleeing, including Chuck Overmyer and
his wife, Ninabill. They were helping friends leave when the blaze
switched directions and moved toward his property. They loaded up what
belongings they could, including three dogs and a 1930 model hot rod, on
a trailer.

As he looked out his rear view mirror he could see embers on the roof of his garage.

“We knew it was gone,” he said.

He
later gathered at the Arrowhead Bar and Grill in nearby Congress along
with locals and watched on TV as he saw the fire destroy his house.

Two hundred firefighters were working on the fire Sunday, and several hundred more were expected to arrive Monday.

The fire has forced the closure of parts of state Route 89. Fire crews had no containment late Sunday.

The Red Cross has opened two shelters in the area – at Yavapai College in Prescott and at the Wickenburg High School gym.

(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s