Nineteen members of an elite Prescott Granite Mountain Hotshots fire crew died Sunday while fighting a rapidly moving wildfire near Yarnell, Arizona.
The blaze started with a lightning strike on Friday. Erratic winds and dry grasses fed the blaze over the weekend.
According to Forestry spokesman Art Morrison, “If you get a real big wind event, all of a sudden the fire blows up and you go to your safety zone. Evidently, their safety zone wasn’t big enough and the fire just overtook them.”
This specialist team of wildfire fighters was based in Prescott, Arizona and had 80 hours of critical training that included the deployment of fire shelters (as seen above) — a giant double layered blanket with materials, including aluminum foil, that is designed to shield a firefighter from both radiant heat and direct heat up to 500 degrees Fahrenheit.
The lone survivor of the unit, as yet unnamed, escaped because he was moving a crew truck when the fire engulfed the rest of the crew.
During a press conference, Prescott Fire Chief Dan Fraijo said, “We grieve for the families. We grieve for the department. We grieve for the city. We’re devastated. We just lost 19 of the finest people you’ll ever meet.”
President Barack Obama released this statement: “Yesterday, nineteen firefighters were killed in the line of duty. They were heroes … who selflessly put themselves in harms way to protect the lives and property of fellow citizens they would never meet.”
“Today, 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.”
Check out video coverage of the fallen firefighters below:
Photos: Facebook-Granite Mountain Hotshots