Arizona Wildfire Kills 19 Elite Firefighters

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Gusty winds blew an Arizona wildfire out of control Sunday in a forest northwest of Phoenix, with tragic results for the firefighters trying to combat it.

Reports indicate that 19 members of an elite fire crew were killed in what is the deadliest wildfire involving firefighters in the U.S. for at least 30 years.


The "hotshot" firefighters were forced to deploy their emergency fire shelters - tent-like structures meant to shield firefighters from flames and heat.

They were caught near the central Arizona town of Yarnell, where the enormous wildfire also destroyed an estimated 200 homes, officials said.

Dry grass near the communities of Yarnell and Glen Isla fed the fast-moving blaze, which was whipped up by wind and raced through the homes.

The fire still burned late Sunday, with flames lighting up the sky in the forest above Yarnell, a town of about 700 about 85 miles northwest of Phoenix.

Most people evacuated from the town, and no injuries or other deaths were reported.

The fire started after a lightning strike on Friday and spread to at least 2,000 acres on Sunday amid triple-digit temperatures, low humidity and windy conditions.

Prescott Fire Chief Dan Fraijo said the 19 dead firefighters were a part of the city's fire department, and that their loss is incalculable for the community.

"We grieve for the family. We grieve for the department. We grieve for the city," he said at a news conference Sunday evening. "We're devastated."

"We just lost 19 of the finest people you'll ever meet."

Hot shot crews are elite firefighters who often hike for miles into the wilderness with saws and heavy gear to build lines of protection between people and fires.