Nineteen firefighters were killed fighting a wildfire in Arizona on Sunday in one of the US’ worst firefighting tragedies in decades. According to Reuters, “It was the greatest loss of life among firefighters from a single wildland blaze in the United States in 80 years, since 29 men died battling the Griffith Park fire of 1933 in Los Angeles, according to National Fire Protection Association records.
Art Morrison of the Arizona State Forestry Commission told CNN the firefighters, members of a specially trained "hot shot" team who serve as the shock troops of a firefighting force, were killed on Sunday afternoon when they were overtaken by flames. "It was a hand crew, a hot shot crew," he said. "In normal circumstances, when you're digging fire lines, you make sure you have a good escape route, and you have a safety zone set up. Evidently, their safety zone wasn't big enough, and the fire just overtook them. By the time the other firefighters got in, they didn't survive," Morrison said.
The crew was initially reported missing before the U.S. Wildland Fire Aviation service said the team had perished in the blaze, which erupted on Friday near the small town of Yarnell about 80 miles northwest of Phoenix, the state capital.
Prescott Fire Chief Dan Fraijo called the tragedy "one of the worst wildfire disasters that's ever taken place". He said he did not know the circumstances that led to the 19 deaths. He said one member of the 20-man crew had been in a separate location and survived. There was no immediate information on his condition.
The blaze, ignited by lightning and stoked by strong, dry winds and a heat wave that has baked the region in triple-digit temperatures, has charred more than 2,000 acres of tinder-dry chaparral and grasslands, fire officials said.
Reports said some of the dead were found inside their temporary fire shelters. Temporary shelters are used as a last resort when firefighters become trapped. This video explains how temporary fire shelters work.