Nineteen firefighters were killed while battling a wildfire around Yarnell, Arizona on Sunday. The news was confirmed Wade Ward with the Prescott Fire Department.
Wade added that 18 of those killed were members of that city’s fire department. They were assisting the nearby Yarnell Hill Fire, which broke out on Friday after an apparent lightning strike. The identity of the 19th firefighter killed is not yet known.
Authorities initially reported that they lost contact with the 19 firefighters around 6 pm local time. While they were seen from a helicopter, crews were unable to establish communications with them.
The fast-moving fire grew to 2,000 acres on Sunday night and burned at least 250 structures in the town of Yarnell. The 18 firefighters killed were the entire crew from the Prescott Granite Mountain Hot Shots. They were among at least 200 firefighters battling the wildfire on Sunday.
The fire initially forced the evacuations of 50 homes in the Buckhorn, Model Creek and Double A Bar Ranch areas, about 85 miles northwest of Phoenix. But the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office expanded the evacuations to include residents in Peeples Valley and Yarnell.
Michelle Lee, a reporter with The Arizona Republic, added on Twitter, “AZ Forestry confirms 19 bodies found, SE side of fire. Some in shelters. 18 from Prescott hot shot crew. 19th identity unknown.”
Forestry spokesman Art Morrison explained of the incident that the 19 firefighters were caught by the fire on Sunday afternoon when the winds changed suddenly. They were forced to deploy their fire shelters — a move that is only made when there are no other options. The fire shelter is intended to reflect heat, protect against heat, and trap breathable air.
But the fire shelters did not help the 19 firefighters, who were found in the shelters. It appeared that the shelters were deployed too late to help, according to reports. The names of those killed have not yet been released. One surviving firefighter has burns to the majority of his body.