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Entire fire crew of 19 wiped out battling Yarnell Hill fire

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
July 2nd, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Nineteen of  "some of the finest people you'll ever meet" in a fire crew battling the Yarnell Hill Fire in Arizona have been killed. Part of an elite squad on the wildfire's front lines, unexpected winds came along and proved too much. Shelters carried by the crew as a last-ditch toll to survive the fire proved ineffective, and our entire crew was lost," Prescott Fire Chief Dan Fraijo told reporters.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The inferno proved too much, even for the shelters the 19 firefighters carried as a last-ditch survival tool.

"The fuels were very dry, the relative humidity was low, and the wind was coming out of the south. It turned around on us because of monsoon action," Mike Reichling, Arizona State Forestry Division spokesman told reporters. "That's what caused the deaths."

Among the firefighters killed was Eric Marsh, superintendent of the Granite Mountain Hotshots. The families of the 18 other firefighters have been notified. There are no other reported injuries from the blaze, Reichling said.

"As we face the day the highest priority is for the fallen comrades," Roy Hall, an incident commander with the state forestry division said. "We got a lot of hotshot crews in the nation, and they are the elite of the ground firefighters. They're highly trained and highly specialized. They are a younger generation. That's the tragedy of it, that lives would be lost of such a young group.

"We know that there are values to be protected and efforts that need to be ongoing in this fire. It's a long ways from being over."

Crews are now working on the eastern side of the fire in an effort to protect homes in evacuated areas. Air tankers have dropped fire retardant on the perimeter and five helicopters have doused hot spots with water.

Temperatures could soar to 102 degrees. A chance of thunderstorms, coupled with high temperatures and dry fuel in the fire's path could send flames into yet another erratic pattern.

Involved in the firefighting effort are 18 engines, 18 fire crews, two structure-protection vehicles and four bulldozers.

Five members of the New York Fire Department incident management team are being sent to assist with management, logistics and strategy, FDNY spokesman Frank Dwyer said.

It was the deadliest day for firefighters since the 9/11 attacks. And it is the deadliest wild land fire since 1933. The last time a fire fighting effort had claimed a comparable amount of lives was when 25 firefighters died when a blaze burned in light chaparral near Griffith Park, California.

The tragedy killed about 20 percent of the Prescott Fire Department. One member of the team was not with the other crew members and survived.

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