As 19 firefighters from an elite brigade tried to find refuge from they raging flames on Sunday, they tried to find shelter in portable units, but that wasn’t enough to save their lives.
On Monday, vans from the coroner’s office took the bodies of the deceased in a procession out of the small mountain community of Yarnell, Arizona.
The fire, which is out of control, continued to rage as about 200 firefighters arrived to help fight the blaze which was ignited by lightning.
The group killed on Sunday were specialists, who called themselves Hotshots. They had experience fighting the nation’s fiercest wildfires.
Finding themselves trapped, the Prescott based group did exactly what they were trained to do to protect themselves, they hunkered down and used their foil-lined, heat resistant tarps, but that couldn’t save them.
Only one member of the unit survived because he was moving their vehicle at the time. The loss of the 19 firefighters is the worst loss in a single fire in 80 years.
Arizona’s Governor, Jan Brewer addressed a crowd of mourners and reporters at the Prescott high school.
Brewer called this tragedy “as dark a day as I can remember” and added the blaze “exploded into a firestorm” that overran the crew.
The fire grew from 200 acres to over 2,000 in a few hours.
Clay Templin, Southwest incident team leader, said that the crew was following safety protocols and appeared to have been overwhelmed with the aggressive nature of the rapidly expanding fire.
The Hotshots had been fighting fires for weeks in New Mexico and Prescott when they were recalled to Yarnell arriving at the mountain location on the weekend.
Fire officials said the bodies of the slain men were taken to the coroner’s office to determine the exact cause of death.
Authorities would not elaborate on the protective actions the 19 firefighters took, only saying they were following training procedures.
Previously, the greatest loss of life was in the 1933 Griffith Park blaze in Los Angeles, which killed 29. The biggest loss of firefighters in U.S. history was 343, killed in the 9/11 attack on New York.
The nation mourns the loss of the 19 firefighters, many of them in their early twenties.