Officials in Arizona have confirmed that 19 firefighters were killed on Sunday battling the Yarnell Hill fire some 75 miles to the northwest of Phoenix. The firemen were identified as part of a highly specialized ground unit of the Prescott, AZ fire department known as the Granite Mountain Hotshots.
The Granite Mountain Hot Shots, established in 2002, are an elite ground firefighting crew known for their innovative problem-solving and history of safe, aggressive fire suppression. Members of the crew are highly trained, come from diverse backgrounds, and work long hours in extreme environmental conditions doing the most demanding of fireline tasks.Earlier in the month, the Granite Mountain Hotshots and a sibling unit with the US Forest Service were busy fighting wildfires in New Mexico and closer to home with the June 18th Doce Fire in the Prescott National Forest.
They carry 40 pounds on their back, may hike in seven miles or more to where they need to work, and work up to 14 hours.
"They have to be ready to leave for an assignment on two hours' notice, which sometimes means missing family events," Ward said. "They have to be prepared to be on that assignment for 21 days, get two days rest at home, and possibly be sent out on another 21-day assignment."
When it's not fire season, the Granite Mountain Hot Shots may help with other emergency situations, including removal of downed tree limbs during winter and spring storms - since they are experts with chainsaws.
The Granite Mountain Hotshots and other units were combatting a lightning sparked wildfire in the mountains outside the town of Yarnell over the weekend when the tragedy took place.
State forestry spokesman Art Morrison told the Associated Press that an estimated 200 homes were also destroyed by the blaze, which fed on dry grass near the communities of Yarnell and Grand Isla.Yarnell is a town of about 600 on Arizona route 89 (formerly US 89) between Wickenburg and Prescott, AZ and is the first town northbound motorists will encounter as they drive north out of the desert and into the mountains. Reports indicate that half the structures in the town of Yarnell have been lost.
The sheriff's office has notified residents in the Peeples Valley area and in the town of Yarnell to evacuate.
Earlier Sunday, the fire prompted the evacuation of at least 50 homes in the Buckhorn, Model Creek and Double A Bar Ranch areas about 85 miles northwest of Phoenix.
The wildfire also forced the closure of about 15 miles of state Route 89, the Arizona Department of Transportation announced. The department did not have an estimate of how long the closure would last but advised drivers to use U.S. 93 or Interstate 17 as alternate routes.
The Yarnell Hill Fire prompted evacuations in the Model Creek, Buckhorn and Double A Bar Ranch areas about 85 miles northwest of Phoenix. The blaze also was within 200 yards of the Model Creek School.
Crews cleared brush and did other work around the evacuated homes to help guard against the fire.
On Sunday afternoon, the Yavapai County Sheriff's Office called residents in the Peeples Valley area and in the town of Yarnell, telling them to evacuate.
Two hundred firefighters are now working at the fire, but an additional 130 firefighters and more water- and retardant-dropping helicopters and aircraft are on their way.