Official: 19 firefighters killed battling blaze near Prescott

June 30, 2013

The 19 members of the Granite Mountain Interagency Hotshot Crew killed Sunday battling the Yarnell Hill Fire is the deadliest tragedy in Arizona history and one of the worst on record in the United States.

yarnell fire Firefighters are seen working on the Yarnell Hill fire, in this photograph from this weekend. Officials say 19 firefighters died battling the blaze Sunday. (Photo courtesy Arizona State Forestry Division)

The crew was made up of Prescott firefighters. Fire Chief Don Fraijo said his department is feeling the impact of their deaths.

"We're devastated," Fraijo said. "We just lost 19 of the finest people you'll ever meet. I mean, right now we are in crisis."

"They’re very strong. They’re holding up well. Our organization is holding up well. But we are going through an incredible period of grief," Fraijo said.

Fraijo said the firefighters did deploy protective gear, but it was unable to save them. All of the firefighters were well trained to battle blazes in rough terrain.

“These people keep themselves in exceptional condition. They have considerable weight to carry and they can walk miles to get to strategic locations," Fraijo said. "Often times they’ll sleep on the ground. It’s a young man’s game."

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer met with fire officials in Prescott to honor the firefighters who died. She said they gave their lives in defense of friends, neighbors and perfect strangers.

The fire has forced the evacuation of more than 600 residents of Yarnell and destroyed as many as 250 homes in the area. Yarnell is a rural community about 80 miles northwest of Phoenix.

Video from local TV news helicopters Monday morning showed dozens of structures have burned. The Red Cross has set up an evacuation station at Yavapai Community College in Prescott.

The fight against the fire continues Monday, with ground crews and air resources. As of 10:30 a.m. officials said the fire had burned more than 8,300 acres, was zero percent contained and had more than 400 firefighters battling the blaze.

"Fire is the enemy when you're trying to contain one and get it put out," said wildfire expert Jim Paxon. “The firefighters that are coming in and those that remain up there, they’ve got to put themselves together. They’ve got to put their grief aside temporarily. They’ve got a job to do. They’ve got to go ahead and do that job.”

Paxon likens the experience to members of the military who have to carry on after the death of a soldier.

Arizona has suffered multiple firefighter deaths before. In 1990, six firefighters were killed in the Dude Fire when flames overwhelmed them. Conditions then were similar to Sunday's weather: dry, record-setting heat and gusting winds.

In July 1973, 11 volunteer firefighters were killed in Kingman when a railway tanker loaded with propane exploded.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, there have been two wildfires nationwide with greater loss of life. In 1933, 29 were killed in Griffith Park in Southern California, and 86 were killed in a 1910 Idaho wildfire.

On Sept. 11, 2011, there were 340 New York firefighters killed, according to the NFPA.

The manager of a gas station outside of Yarnell said the community will come together in the wake of the deadly fire. Seth Howe runs Country Corner in nearby Congress, Ariz.., and he said his business remains open.

“I don’t think we’re really going to feel the long-term effects for a couple of weeks as to how we really feel and/or have changed,” Howe said.

Fraijo said Prescott's Frontier Days festivities scheduled this week around the July 4 holiday will not be cancelled. He said it is an opportunity to recognize the firefighters who sacrificed their lives.

"This is not to do this to spite them in many respects, it was to honor them," Fraijo said. "So for those of you who enjoy the rodeo, I'm sure you are going to hear moments of silence at every rodeo event, and certainly, fireworks, every time one of those goes off, thank god that we're here."

jersey The Arizona Diamondbacks honored the victims of the fire with a customized jersey. (Photo courtesy of @Dbacks via Twitter)

Arizona firefighting officials have scheduled another news conference at 3:30 p.m. Monday to provide updated information on the number of homes lost and the size of the fire. The names of the firefighters killed will be released at a later time.

On Monday afternoon the City of Prescott released the names of the firefighters killed. They are: Andrew Ashcraft, 29; Robert Caldwell, 23; Travis Carter, 31;  Dustin Deford, 24; Christopher MacKenzie, 30; Eric Marsh, 43; Grant McKee, 21; Sean Misner, 26; Scott Norris, 28; Wade Parker, 22; John Percin, 24; Anthony Rose, 23; Jesse Steed, 36; Joe Thurston, 32; Travis Turbyfill, 27; William Warneke, 25; Clayton Whitted, 28; Kevin Woyjeck, 21; and Garret Zuppiger, 27.



Updated 7/1/2013 at 04:33 p.m.