19 firefighters were killed in Arizona on Sunday. The 19 firefighters, known as “Hotshot” firefighters were an elite crew of first responders who are trained to hike deep into the wilderness with chainsaws and bags filled with other equipment to build lines of protection between the fire and nearby towns and people.
The fire began in the small town of Yarnell, Ariz. due to a lightning strike and quickly spreading across 2,000 acres due to high temperatures and windy conditions. Most of the town has been evacuated and more than half of its 500 structures have been destroyed.
One Yarnell resident, Don Mason, told reporters, “I don't know if my home's standing or not, but from what I've heard, most of Yarnell has burned to the ground. So it's been tough.”
Even tougher is the tragic end to the 19 firefighters, 18 of whom worked for the Prescott Granite Mountain Hotshots. Prescott Fire Chief Dan Fraijo was devastated by the loss of his men, telling reporters, “We grieve for the family. We grieve for the department. We grieve for the city. We’re devastated. We just lost 19 of some of the finest people you'll ever meet."
The crew of “hotshots” was attempting to protect themselves under fire-resistant shields, but the blaze was simply too powerful. “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 -- kind of 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.
This is the deadliest occurrence for firefighters since 9/11 and the deadliest wildfire incident ever. The blaze in Yarnell has not been contained at all and has now spread to 6,000 acres. Four more “hotshot” crews are headed in to fight the blaze and officials are hoping that the incoming rain will help quell and contain the wildfire.
As for now, the names of the victims have not been released. An investigation will be launched into the tragedy once the fire is contained.