Nineteen firefighters were killed Sunday night while trying to stop the spread of the Yarnell Hill fire in Arizona. The firefighters were part of an elite 20-member squad specializing in fighting wildfires. The squad was part of the Prescott Fire Department.
"We grieve for the family. We grieve for the department. We grieve for the city," said Prescott Fire Chief Dan Fraijo. "We're devastated. We just lost 19 of the finest people you'll ever meet."
Fraijo confirmed the 20th member of the squad was not killed because they were not with the other crew members. The department has not released the names of the dead.
According to reports, authorities believe the firefighters were forced to resort to their fire shelters. The shelters are aluminum blankets that blocks heat and flames. Arizona State Forestry Division spokesman Mike Reichling said a wind shift pushed the blaze back on the crew. "The fuels were very dry, the relative humidity was low, the wind was coming out of the south. It turned around on us because of monsoon action. That's what caused the deaths,” told CNN affiliate KNXV.
Lightning apparently started the fire on Friday. The blaze had burned more than 6,000 acres by Sunday night. According to reports, some 200 hundred homes have been destroyed. Hundreds of Peeples Valley and Yarnell residents have fled their homes in favor of shelters on safer ground. No civilian injuries or deaths have been reported.
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