19 Firefighters confirmed killed battling Arizona wildfire

Conflicting casualty figures reported

PRESCOTT, Ariz. - Nineteen firefighters have died fighting a wildfire in northern Arizona.

Eighteen of the victims were part of the Prescott Granite Mountain Hotshots. One member of the hotshots survived, Prescott Fire spokesman Wade Ward said Sunday night.

Arizona forestry official Art Morrison said the firefighters were forced to deploy their personal fire shelters as the fire overran them late Sunday afternoon.

“It’s a dark day,” said Mike Reichling, Arizona State Forestry Division spokesman. He said the 19th fatality was not part of the hotshot crew and was found near the bodies of the hotshot crew.

Reichling said the firefighters were found in area that also had 19 personal fire shelters deployed. Some of those found were inside a shelter. Some where not, he told AZCentral.com.

Prescott Fire Chief Dan Fraijo said in late-night a news conference that the department is grieving the loss of so many of its members.

Personal fire shelters are the last protection wildland firefighters deploy when they are caught by fire.  

ABC15 reported the town of Yarnell, Ariz., northwest of Phoenix, was on fire Sunday night and half the buildings in the town had burned in the fire.

According to the Arizona Republic newspaper, one hospital was expecting injured eight firefighters earlier.   Some of those were to be airlifted to a Phoenix burn unit and others were being transported to a regional medical center.  It was not clear in the confusion if the eight injured the hospital was told to expect were among fatalities reported later.

The wildfire that sparked just southwest of Prescott after an apparent lightning strike quickly grew to more than 2,000 acres Sunday forcing the evacuation of several communities.

Fire spokesman Mike Reichling said of the 500 structures in Yarnell, including homes, business and sheds, half of them have been destroyed in the fire. 

Reichling said there are currently 250 firefighters working the Yarnell Hill fire and there will be a total of 400 in the next few hours.

Earlier, there were reports of firefighters unaccounted for after being "surrounded by fire."

The wildfire sparked just southwest of Prescott after an apparent lightning strike quickly grew Sunday,  forcing the evacuation of several communities.

Fire officials said the "Yarnell Hill" wildfire is burning west of State Route 89, between Yarnell and Peeples Valley, and as more resources are being called in, an evacuation center has been set up at Yavapai Community College.

Officials say approximately 600 people are under mandatory evacuation.

The wildfire is zero percent contained.

Officials said the Yarnell Valley has been in a drought for about 10 years and the materials fueling the fire are very dry helping the fire spread fast.  It has been 40 years since a wildfire burned there, ABC15 reported.

The 19 deaths are the worst firefighter tragedy in Arizona history. It is also the deadliest wildfire firefighter loss in the U.S. for at least 30 years.


-- Deaths Bring Back Storm King Memories -- 


On July 6, 1994, 14 hotshot firefighters died in a fast-moving fire on Storm King Mountain outside of Glenwood Springs, Colo.

According to eyewitness accounts, the firefighters were unable to see how dangerous their position had become because of a small ridge below them. They had been moving slowly and were still carrying their equipment as the South Canyon Fire blew up behind them.

When they realized the danger, the crew dropped their tools and made an uphill dash for the top of the mountain but only one person made it over to survive. The fire overran the remaining 12 firefighters and reportedly reached a height of 200 to 300 feet as it crossed over the ridge. It was estimated to be moving at between 10 and 20 miles per hour at the time of the blow-up.

The hotshots were based in Prineville, Oregon and a permanent memorial to them was later errected in a Glenwood Springs park, within view of Storm King Mountain.

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