Nineteen firefighters killed battling Arizona blaze

The Granite Mountain Hotshots crew
The Granite Mountain Hotshots crew, who were killed battling a fast-moving brushfire in Arizona on Sunday.

An elite team of 19 firemen were killed in one of deadliest U.S. firefighting disasters in decades as flames raced through dry brush and grass in central Arizona, destroying scores of homes and forcing the evacuation of two towns.

It was the greatest loss of life among firefighters from a single wildland blaze in the United States in 80 years, since 29 men died battling the Griffith Park fire of 1933 in Los Angeles, according to National Fire Protection Association records.

Art Morrison of the Arizona State Forestry Commission told CNN the firefighters, members of a specially trained “hot shot” team who serve as the shock troops of a firefighting force, were killed Sunday afternoon when they were overtaken by flames.

“It was a hand crew, a hot shot crew,” he said.

“In normal circumstances, when you’re digging fire lines, you make sure you have a good escape route, and you have a safety zone set up. Evidently, their safety zone wasn’t big enough, and the fire just overtook them. By the time the other firefighters got in, they didn’t survive,” Morrison said.

The crew was initially reported missing before the U.S. Wildland Fire Aviation service said the team had perished in the blaze, which erupted Friday near the small town of Yarnell about 80 miles northwest of Phoenix, the state capital.

President Barack Obama, traveling in Africa, issued a statement hailing the fallen firefighters as “heroes.”

“They were … 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 president said.

Prescott Fire Chief Dan Fraijo called the tragedy “one of the worst wildfire disasters that’s ever taken place.” He said he did not know the circumstances that led to the 19 deaths.

He said one member of the 20-man crew had been in a separate location and survived. There was no immediate information on his condition.

“We teach our people to be safe, to take safety precautions. Sometimes, unfortunately, it just doesn’t work out,” he told reporters at a news conference after darkness fell. He said the unpredictable weather paired with tinder-dry conditions can be a volatile mix for those on the front lines of wildfires.

Fast-moving fire

The blaze, ignited by lightning and stoked by strong, dry winds and a heat wave that has baked the region in triple-digit temperatures, has charred more than 2,000 acres of tinder-dry chaparral and grasslands, fire officials said.

Local television news footage showed an unbroken line of flames stretching along a ridgeline, sending gray brown smoke billowing into the evening sky.

Authorities ordered the evacuation of Yarnell and the adjoining town of Peeples Valley, alerting residents through reverse 911 emergency calls to homes and sending sheriff’s deputies door to door, according to the InciWeb fire news site of the U.S. Forest Service.

The two towns, which lie southwest of Prescott, Arizona, are home to roughly 1,000 people.

Steve Skurja, spokesman for Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office, said at least 200 structures had been destroyed, most of them in Yarnell, a community consisting largely of retirees. Fire officials said most of the buildings lost were homes.

The Daily Courier Prescott newspaper said the dead were members of the Prescott Fire Department’s Granite Mountain Hotshots team.

“We’re an organization and a city that’s in grief,” Fire Chief Fraijo told reporters late Sunday. “We grieve for the families, we grieve for the department and we grieve for the city.”

The men’s families “are in terrible shock,” he added.

“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.”

The Yarnell Hills 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.

The National Fire Protection Association lists just seven previous incidents in the United States during the past century that killed as many or more firefighters than on Sunday in Arizona, topped by the loss of 340 firefighters in the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center.

The only U.S. wildland blaze that surpassed Sunday’s disaster was the so-called Devil’s Broom fire in Silverton, Idaho, in 1910, in which 86 firefighters perished, according to the association.



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
National

Is #JusticeForAvaLynn a case of bullying?

On Saturday, the hashtag #JusticeForAvaLynn became one of the trending topics on Twitter. Users circulated the above photo of 5-year-old AvaLynn, posted by her mother…

International

Terrorism could spread to US and Europe in…

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah said terrorism would soon spread to Europe and the United States unless it is quickly dealt with in the Middle East,…

National

Ex-Bitcoin official to plead guilty to Silk Road…

Bitcoin entrepreneur Charlie Shrem has reached a plea deal to resolve U.S. charges that he engaged in a scheme to sell over $1 million of…

International

China's army changes tactics to prepare for war…

Chinese President Xi Jinping has said China will spur military innovation and called on the army to create a new strategy for "information warfare" as…

Gossip

Joan Rivers on life support: Report

TMZ reports that comedian Joan Rivers has been placed on life support, "completely reliant on machines to stay alive." Rivers has been hospitalized since she…

Movies

What's new on Netflix in September

September has a supernatural theme for Netflix. UFO "documentaries" and the survivalist reality series "Doomsday Preppers" are among the new series coming to the online…

Going Out

'Friends' coffeehouse Central Perk coming to NYC —…

"Friends" is coming back for a one-off special: "The One with the Free Coffee." Warner Bros. is bringing a pop-up replica of Central Perk, the…

Movies

Interview: 'As Above, So Below' directors: 5 ways…

The fraternal directors of the found footage horror "As Above, So Below" dish on the best ways to frighten the bejesus out of audiences.

NFL

3 things we learned in the Giants preseason…

The final score didn’t matter — a 16-13 win by the Giants — but it would’ve been nice to finally see Big Blue’s new-look offense get on track.

NFL

NFL Power Rankings: Seahawks, Broncos, Patriots, 49ers start…

NFL Power Rankings: Seahawks, Broncos, Patriots start at top

U.S. Soccer

5 facts about new England captain Wayne Rooney

Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney was named as the new England captain by coach Roy Hodgson on Thursday.

NFL

Jets vs. Eagles: 3 things to watch

A win on Thursday night at the Eagles would give the Jets a 3-1 record and just their second winning preseason under head coach Rex Ryan.

Wellbeing

VIDEO: Still not wearing sunscreen? You will after…

Sunscreen is possibly the most often repeated - and ignored - piece of skincare advice. But Thomas Leveritt took a different tactic. With a short…

Food

Twitter used to track down sources of food…

When Chicago health officials saw Twitter users complaining about local food poisoning episodes, they reached out on Twitter to those users and often ended up…

Style

Trend: White hot on the 2014 Emmy's red…

White was one of the big trends on the Emmy's red carpet.

Food

Recipe: Samuel Adams beer-marinated grilled shrimp

Summer calls for two things: a cold beer and light food. Sam Adams' Latitude 48 IPA fairly bursts with citrus notes, making it an ideal marinade…