Monday, July 1, 2013

A Wildfire Tragedy: 19 Firefighters Die in Prescott Blaze

Posted By on Mon, Jul 1, 2013 at 9:18 AM

Last night, report confirmed that 19 missing firefighters from the Prescott Fire Department have died fighting the Yarnell Hill fire.

From Prescott's Daily Courier:

The elite 20-man hotshot team is the only one in the country that is organized through a city fire department. It earned its national interagency hotshot designation in 2008.

Prescott Fire Department Fire Chief Dan Fraijo said the 20th crewmember was working in a different location on the fire and was not injured.

"We're devastated. We just lost 19 of the finest people you'll ever meet ...Truly we're going through a terrible crisis right now," Fraijo said.

Sunday's fatalities amounted to the highest firefighter death toll on a single U.S. wildfire since 1933, when 25 firefighters were killed on the Griffith Park fire in Los Angeles.

Authorities confirmed the hotshots deployed their individual fire shelters, but declined to elaborate on the details leading up to the tragedy.

Below the jump, a sampling of the reactions to Prescott's loss:

President Obama, via The Hill:

Obama praised the firefighters as “heroes — highly-skilled professionals who, like so many across our country do every day, selflessly put themselves in harm's way to protect the lives and property of fellow citizens they would never meet,” in a statement.

“In recent days, hundreds of firefighters have battled extremely dangerous blazes across Arizona and the Southwest. The federal government is already assisting, and we will remain in close contact with state and local officials to provide the support they need,” Obama, who is on a weeklong trip to Africa, said.

“Michelle and I join all Americans in sending our thoughts and prayers to the families of these brave firefighters and all whose lives have been upended by this terrible tragedy.”

From Governor Jan BrewerGov. Brewer:

“This is as dark a day as I can remember, with Arizona suffering the truly unimaginable loss of 19
wildland firefighters. They were battling the Yarnell Fire, near Prescott, when the fast-moving blaze overtook
their position.

“It may be days or longer before an investigation reveals how this tragedy occurred, but the essence we
already know in our hearts: fighting fires is dangerous work. The risk is well-known to the brave men and
women who don their gear and do battle against forest and flame.

”When a tragedy like this strikes, all we can do is offer our eternal gratitude to the fallen, and prayers for
the families and friends left behind. God bless them all."

Sen. John McCain, via The Hill:

"This evening, the families and loved ones of the brave firefighters who lost their lives battling the Yarnell Hill Fire in Central Arizona — as well as those still fighting the fire — are in the thoughts and prayers of all Americans," McCain said in a statement. "This devastating loss is a reminder of the grave risks our firefighters take every day on our behalf in Arizona and in communities across this nation. Their sacrifice will never be forgotten."


Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick:

“It’s difficult to put into words the pain shared by all Arizonans this morning. As the news of this tragedy unfolded last night, we at first felt shock and disbelief. And then a heartwrenching reality began to set in. These 19 courageous firefighters will long be remembered as heroes, but today they are deeply mourned as family members, dear friends, neighbors and colleagues. My heart goes out to their families, and we will spare no effort to assist them and the good folks of Yarnell, Prescott and other affected communities. We will not forget the sacrifice of these 19 firefighters. They went to work every day — to a job that was dangerous and thankless. They will never return, and our Arizona family will never be the same. May their brave souls rest in peace.”

Rep. Raul Grijalva:

“Firefighters dedicate their careers to keeping the rest of us safe, and their bravery in the cause of protecting the public is sometimes taken for granted,” Grijalva said. “It takes more courage and professionalism than we imagine to face a wall of fire with nothing but a small shelter for protection. These nineteen men died protecting other families’ homes, doing what they believed in. Our gratitude for their efforts and our sorrow at their loss cannot easily be measured in words.”

Grijalva expressed his hope and belief that the people of Prescott and the surrounding area will remember the firefighters’ sacrifice after the fire has been contained.

“People call them first responders, but firefighters are often the only responders,” Grijalva said. “They are men and women just like us who choose to dedicate their lives to protecting others. The nineteen men killed yesterday will be remembered not just for the lives and homes they saved, but for their willingness to brave that risk knowing the dangers, just as all firefighters do. I and my office are ready to assist their families, and the others affected by this terrible fire, in any way we can.”

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