The 19 firefighters lost Sunday in the Yarnell, Arizona wildfires belonged to an elite crew called the Prescott Granite Mountain Hotshots. The twentieth member of the team was seriously burned.
As The Inquisitr reported in detail last night, at least 200 firefighters were fighting the fast-moving fire that has already destroyed over 250 structures in Yarnell when the tragedy struck.
Forestry official Art Morrison explained that the firefighters were forced to deploy their fire shelters because of a sudden deadly shift in the wind. The shelters are a last-ditch, emergency effort to trap air and protect against heat. However, in this case, they ultimately failed, leaving 19 of the Prescott Granite Mountain Hot Shots dead in what may be the worst mass firefighter deaths since the 9/11 terror attack on the World Trade Center in New York.
In addition to that grim milestone, officials also believe that the deaths represent the worst loss of US firefighters in a wildfire in 80 years.
To qualify for hot shot status, a firefighting team receives elite training and each member must be in peak condition. According to the Prescott Granite Mountain hotshots website:
“The nature of our work requires us to endure physical hardships beyond most people’s experiences. Environmental extremes, long hours, bad food, and steep, rugged terrain, demand that we train early and often by running and hiking, doing core exercises, yoga, and weight training. We must pass the Arduous Work Capacity Test (Pack Test) as a condition of hire. Also, we have a fitness goal of a 1.5 mile run in 10 minutes 35 seconds, 40 sit-ups in 60 seconds, 25 pushups in 60 seconds, and 7 pull ups.”
The city of Prescott, Arizona backed team received the elite hotshot qualification in 2008, and a USA Today report noted that they were one of the few hotshot fire crews that weren’t federal or state sponsored.
According to that report, the award-winning Granite Mountain Hotshots were caught in a so-called flash-over event. The hot, dry wind from a mountain thunderstorm sent out a blast of hot air that ignited desert-dry grass near people’s homes at the speed of a bomb going off — giving even the best-trained firefighters no time to react.
We’ll keep you updated on more information about the Granite Mountain Hotshot firefighter tragedy as we get it.
[fire photo by Marcus Obal via Wikimedia]