Nineteen firefighters, most of them from an elite crew, were killed Sunday after they were overtaken by the fast moving flames of Arizona’s Yarnell Hill Fire. It’s the deadliest blaze for firefighters since 29 died battling the Griffith Park Fire in Los Angeles 80 years ago.
The wildfire was still burning Monday, having grown to 8,300 acres from 6,000 overnight. About half of Yarnell’s 500 buildings have been destroyed in the blaze, which was still zero percent contained as of 8 a.m. local time. About 600 people have been evacuated.
According to Arizona State Forestry Division spokesman Mike Reichling, 18 of the firefighters who died were from the Granite Mountain Hotshot crew out of Prescott, Ariz., about 30 miles northeast of where the Yarnell Hill Fire is burning. Reichling said Sunday that the firefighters were killed after the wind abruptly shifted direction.
“This fire was very radical in its behavior, the fuels were very dry, the relative humidity was low, the wind was coming out of the south, it turned around on us because of monsoon action this afternoon,” he said. “That’s what caused the deaths, the change in the radical behavior of the burning fuels.”
Prescott Fire Chief Dan Fraijo said Sunday that “We grieve for the family. 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.”
The crew killed in the massive blaze had worked other wildfires in recent weeks in New Mexico and Arizona. The unit was established in 2002.
The wildfire that sparked just southwest of Prescott after an apparent lightning strike grew from four acres to more than 6,000 acres Sunday, forcing the evacuation of several communities.
...Reichling said there are currently 250 firefighters working the Yarnell Hill Fire, and between 200 and 250 more would be coming in.
As of 8:00 a.m. on Monday there are 18 engines, 18 fire crews, 8 support water tenders, 2 crash/rescue vehicles, 2 structure protection vehicles, and 4 dozers. On order are more 20-person hotshot crews, type 2 hand crews and other firefighting personnel and equipment.