Nineteen firefighters were killed Sunday while fighting an out-of-control wildfire in Arizona, the Arizona Republic reported.
All but one of the men were members of a “hotshot crew” based out of Prescott, Arizona, that was fighting a fire that started in Yarnell, Arizona, about 85 miles northwest of Phoenix. The “Yarnell Hill fire,” as the blaze has become known, has scorched 8,000 acres and burned down half of the town’s homes and was started by a lightning strike in the area on Friday.
“We’re an organization and city that’s in grief,” Prescott Fire Chief Dan Fraijo told KPHO-TV at a press conference Sunday.
KPHO also reported that another member of the team, the “Granite Mountain Hotshots,” was hospitalized Sunday. His condition is unknown. The other victim was part of another squad, which has not been identified. Officials were trying to reach the victims’ loved ones Sunday night before releasing their identities.
A spokesperson for the state forestry commission, Art Morrison, told CNN the men were tasked with creating a fuel break in the fire
“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 explained to CNN. “Evidently, their safety zone wasn’t big enough, and the fire just overtook them.”
Morrison told CNN that a helicopter confirmed that the men tried to use their personal fire shelters — tents used to protect them as a last resort — before succumbing to the fire.
“These are the guys that will go out there with 40, 50 pounds of equipment,” Fraijo told NBC News. “They’ll sleep out there as they try to develop fire lines and put protection between homes and natural resources and still try to remain safe.”
According to the Republic, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) said in a statement that she planned to tour the affected area on Monday and may call a special legislative session to provide damage relief to the people displaced by the fire.
“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,” Brewer said in her statement. “The risk is well-known [sic] to the brave men and women who don their gear and do battle against forest and flame.”
Watch Morrison’s interview with CNN, aired Sunday, below.