The 19 firefighters killed Sunday in Arizona were members of an elite crew known for battling the region’s worst fires, including two earlier this season before all but one member of the team died in the deadliest U.S. wildfire for firefighters in decades.
Prescott Fire Chief Dan Fraijo said the 19 firefighters, whose names had not been released, were part of the city’s fire department.
“We’re devastated,” Fraijo said late Sunday. “We just lost 19 of the finest people you’ll ever meet.”
Before the fire near Yarnell, the group — one of 13 Arizona Hotshot crews — had been profiled in local media last year as they prepared for the fire season and this year as they took on a blaze near Prescott earlier this month.
“The Hot Shots may be fighting the fire with fire,” Prescott firefighter and spokesman Wade Ward told the Prescott Daily Courier in an interview last week. “They may be removing the fuels from the fire, or building a containment line that might be a trigger point for farther down the line.”
Ward told the newspaper members of Hotshot crews are highly trained individuals who work long hours in extreme conditions. The crews, which number roughly 100 in the U.S., often hike for miles into the wilderness with chainsaws and backpacks stuffed with heavy gear to build lines of protection between people and raging fires.