God bless them all
The fast-moving wildfire that killed 19 firefighters Sunday is now more than quadruple in size, as crews battle triple-digit heat and erratic winds in an effort to contain the blaze.
The 19, most of a crew known as the Granite Mountain Hotshots, were killed Sunday while fighting the Yarnell Hill Fire, northwest of Phoenix.
The Hotshots were highly trained firefighters with tough standards of fitness. Firefighters were required to take an 80-hour critical training course and refresher yearly and offered fire safety courses, according to the group's website.
Prescott Fire Chief Dan Frajio said one member of the local Hotshot crew survived because the firefighter wasn’t with the others when they were caught up by the blaze, which was caused by lightning.
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer said she plans to visit the area where the 19 died and may call the Legislature into special session for emergency relief.
“When a tragedy like this strikes, all we can do is offer our eternal gratitude to the fallen and prayers for the families and friends left behind, Brewer said in her statement. “.”
This tragedy is the worst wild land firefighter loss in the U.S. since 25 were killed in 1933’s Griffith Park Fire in Los Angeles. It’s also the worst firefighter death toll since 9/11.
President Obama hailed the fallen as heroes. In a statement released as he prepared to travel to Tanzania from South Africa, Obama said Monday, “Michelle and I join all Americans in sending our thoughts and prayers to the families of these brave firefighters.”
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano urged residents in the area to heed local authorities’ instructions, while lamenting the loss of so many firefighters.
Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican, said in a statement, "This devastating loss is a reminder of the grave risks our firefighters take every day on our behalf in Arizona and in communities across this nation. Their sacrifice will never be forgotten."
About half of Yarnell’s 500 homes were feared destroyed by the blaze, which began early Friday evening, and by Sunday consumed 8,000 acres. All of Yarnell and the neighboring Peeples Valley were evacuated. The two towns are southwest of Prescott and home to roughly 1,000 people.
The 250 firefighters battling the fire Sunday was expected to increase to 400 Monday, according to Mike Reichling, Arizona State Forestry Division spokesman.
Before the 19 deaths in Arizona, 43 firefighters had been killed so far in 2013, according to the U.S. Fire Administration. A total of 83 firefighters died last year while on duty.
The fire was one of dozens of wildfires in several western U.S. states in recent weeks. Experts have said the current fire season could be one of the worst on record.
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