News Column

Wildfire Kills 19 Firefighters in Arizona

July 1, 2013

Nineteen Arizona firefighters, "doing what they normally do," were killed battling the lightning-set, fast-moving Yarnell Hill wildfire, an official said.

"It's a dark day," Arizona State Forestry Division spokesman Mike Reichling said after the tragedy Sunday.

State forestry officials confirmed the deaths as the uncontrolled inferno burned half the homes in Yarnell, a town of about 650 people, and blackened more than 2,000 acres, The Arizona Republic reported.

Reichling said the fallen firefighters were found in a spot where 19 fire shelters were deployed. Some were inside their shelters, which typically are used as a last resort when firefighters are overtaken by flames, and others were found outside the shelters.

President Obama called the victims heroes and recognized the hundreds of firefighters battling fires across Arizona and the Southwest.

"Yesterday, 19 firefighters were killed in the line of duty while fighting a wildfire outside Yarnell, Arizona," Obama said in the statement issued Monday. "They were heroes -- highly skilled professionals who, like so many across our country do every day, selflessly put themselves in harm's way to protect the lives and property of fellow citizens they would never meet."

The federal government is ready to assist and will remain in contact with state and local officials to provide support as needed, President Obama said.

"Michelle and I join all Americans in sending our thoughts and prayers to the families of these brave firefighters and all whose lives have been upended by this terrible tragedy," Obama said.

Eighteen of those killed were members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots team from Prescott. It wasn't known what crew the 19th firefighter belonged to, the newspaper said.

"They were up there doing what they normally do," Reichling said.

"It's a terrible tragedy," said Roxie Glover, director of community relations at Wickenburg Community Hospital.

About 400 personnel would be working the fast-moving fire, which was set by lightning Friday evening and had burned 200-250 structures, he said.

The newspaper said Wickenburg Community Hospital was treating residents for minor injuries and smoke inhalation.

State House Speaker Andy Tobin, R-Paulden, said Yavapai County Sheriff's Department officer Scott Mascher told him the fire "took an incredibly swift turn" and it was "very, very bad."

Source: Copyright UPI 2013. Distributed by MCT Information Services

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