19 Firefighters Killed In Arizona Wildfire: 6,000 Acre Blaze Claims Elite 'Hotshots' Crew [VIDEO, REPORT]

By Staff Reporter on July 1, 2013 8:35 AM EDT

19 firefighters were killed
19 Hotshots members were killed by Arizona's Yarnell Hill fire. A Hotshots crew battling a California inferno is pictured. (Photo: Creative Commons)

19 firefighters were killed in a battle against the 6,000 acre Yarnell Hill wildfire on Sunday. The fire, located just northwest of Phoneix, Arizona, is the deadliest blaze for firefighters since the tragic 9/11 attack.

According to Fox News, the 19 firefighters killed in the blaze were members of Hotshots, an elite crew known for containing the worst blazes the region has to offer. One lone Hot Shots member, who was not with the other crew members at the time, survived. The names of the fallen firefighters are not released.

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"Our entire crew was lost," Prescott Fire Chief Dan Fraijo told reporters Sunday night. "We just lost 19 of some of the finest people you'll ever meet. Right now, we're in crisis."

A brutal wildfire, authorities believe the Yarnell Hill fire was sparked by a lightning strike on Friday. By Sunday night, the blaze had already spread 6,000 acres and destroyed more than 100 structures.

Forced evacuations were declared in Peeples Valley and Yarnell. Thankfully, no civilian injuries have been reported.

"The Hot Shots may be fighting the fire with fire," said Prescott firefighter and spokesman Wade Ward. "They may be removing the fuels from the fire, or building a containment line that might be a trigger point for farther down the line."

According to Ward, the 19 firefighters killed in the fire are members of a hotshots crew, a highly trained squad that battled the fires up close. Working long hours in extreme conditions, Hotshot crews hike for miles into the wilderness armed with chainsaws and a backpack full of equipment in order to build protection lines and barriers to stop the wildfire from spreading. There are roughly 100 Hotshots crews in the U.S.

"A hotshot crew are the elite firefighters," state forestry spokesman Art Morrison said. "They're usually (a) 20-person crew, and they're the ones who actually go in and dig the fire line, cut the brush to make a fuel break. And so they would be as close to the fire as they felt they safely could."

"In normal circumstances, when you're digging fire line, you make sure you have a good escape route, and you have a safety zone set up," Morrison said. "Evidently, their safety zone wasn't big enough, and the fire just overtook them."

"This is as dark a day as I can remember," Arizona Governor Jan Brewer said in a statement. "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."

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