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Eighteen members of an elite Hotshots firefighting crew and one other person  who were killed Sunday in an Arizona wildfire tried to protect themselves by  deploying tent-like structures before they were overtaken, a state forestry  spokesman says.

The lightning-sparked fire, which spread to more than 8,000 acres amid  triple-digit temperatures, destroyed at least 50 structures and threatened 500  people in Yarnell, a town of about 700 residents that sits 85 miles northwest of  Phoenix, the Yavapai County Emergency Management said Monday. Most people had  evacuated from the town, and no injuries or other deaths were reported.

The fire killed 18 members of the 20-member of the Prescott Granite Mountain  Hotshots crew, which were known for battling the region’s worst fires, including  two earlier this season. The average age of the men in the crew was  22-years-old, Fox 10 reports.  The other person killed has not yet been identified, Reichling said.

Nineteen fire shelters were deployed on Sunday, 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.

A helicopter pilot discovered the bodies and authorities are working to  remove them, a Department of Public Safety spokesperson said, according to Fox  10.

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

Prescott Fire Chief Dan Fraijo said the firefighters, whose names have not  been released, were part of the city’s fire department.

“We’re devastated,” Fraijo said late Sunday. “We just lost 19 of the finest  people you’ll ever meet.”

Prescott firefighter and spokesman Wade Ward told the Prescott Daily Courier  in an interview last week that the hotshots crews are highly trained individuals  who work long hours in extreme conditions. The crews, which number roughly 100  in the U.S., often hike for miles into the wilderness with chainsaws and  backpacks stuffed with heavy gear to build lines of protection between people  and raging fires.

State forestry spokesman Art Morrison told the Associated Press that the  firefighters were forced to deploy their emergency fire shelters — tent-like  structures meant to shield firefighters from flames and heat — when they were  caught in the Yarnell-area fire on Sunday.

The Cronkite News Service had featured the group in a story practicing such  deployment in a worst-case scenario drill. The crew last year had four rookies  on its team, according to the story.

“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 — kinda 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 Sunday.

“Under certain conditions there’s usually only sometimes a 50 percent chance  that they survive,” he said. “It’s an extreme measure that’s taken under the  absolute worst conditions.”

Two hundred firefighters were working on the Yarnell fire Sunday, and several  hundred more were expected to arrive Monday. The fire has also forced the  closure of parts of state Route 89. It was zero percent contained late  Sunday.

Reichling said Monday that 18 hotshot fire crews are now battling the  blaze.

The National Weather Service also 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.

“We’re devastated. We just lost 19 of the finest people you’ll ever  meet.”

– Prescott Fire Chief Dan Fraijo

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer plans to travel to the area on Monday.

“This is as dark a day as I can remember,” Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer said in a  statement on Sunday. “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 risk is well-known to the brave men and  women who don their gear and do battle against forest and flame.

“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.  God bless them all.”

President Obama, currently traveling in Africa, released a statement praising  the firefighters as “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.”

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said the “devastating” loss is a reminder of  deadly risks firefighters take every day.

“Their sacrifice will never be forgotten,” McCain said in a statement.

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 Sept. 11, 2001,  terrorist attacks in New York, according to the website.

In another Arizona fire, a 2-acre blaze that started at a motorcycle salvage  yard and spread to a trailer park has destroyed five mobile homes in the Gila  County community of Rye, located more than 130 miles east of Yarnell.

Gila County Health and Emergency Services Director Michael O’Driscoll said no  one was injured in Rye.

The fire was ignited Saturday night at All Bikes Sales located off Highway  87.  It spread to neighboring federal Forest Service land but was fully  contained within 12 hours of its start.

The Red Cross says seven adults and two children were staying at a shelter  set up for people who were evacuate.

Via Fox News

19 Firefighters Killed Battling Arizona Wildfires  was originally published on wzakcleveland.com

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