Arizona lowered flags to half-staff on Monday July 1 as Turtle Island mourned the loss of 19 members of a 20-member elite firefighting force who perished late Sunday June 30 in a raging blaze near Yarnell, Arizona.
“We’re devastated,” Prescott Fire Chief Dan Fraijo told reporters at a news conference.
“There’s no containment at all,” an official told the Associated Press of the fire, which had reached 2,000 acres by Sunday night after being sparked by lightning on June 28.
The members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots died about 35 miles southwest of Prescott, trapped on Yarnell Hill by a wall of flames between 15 and 20 feet high, the New York Daily News reported.
“This is as dark a day as I can remember, with Arizona suffering the truly unimaginable loss of 19 wildland firefighters,” Arizona Governor Jan Brewer said in a statement. “They were battling the Yarnell Fire, near Prescott, when the fast-moving blaze overtook their position.”
Brewer said this fire marked the greatest loss of first-responder life since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
“This day will be eternally etched in Arizona’s memory,” Brewer said. “It will forever ring as one of our state’s darkest, most devastating days. It will forever remind us of the constant peril our firefighters selflessly face protecting us.”
Flags would be flown at half-staff, she said.
“In their honor, I have ordered that all state flags be flown at half-staff from sunrise, July 1, 2013, to sunset, July 3, 2013,” Brewer said. “I hope all individuals and businesses join in this solemn tribute.”
The fire had consumed more than 2000 acres by Monday as the towns of Yarnell and Peeples were evacuated, with officials going door-to-door making sure everyone was alerted, the fire-reporting website Inciweb said. In addition a shelter was being set up at the Hidden Springs Ranch for large animals, with another for people and small animals operational at Yavapai College in Prescott. Route 89, a major thoroughfare through central Arizona, was closed down, the Daily News said.
President Barack Obama issued a statement early Monday as the deaths came to light.
“They were heroes — highly skilled professionals who, like so many across our country do every day, selflessly put themselves in harm’s way to protect the lives and property of fellow citizens they would never meet,” he said in a statement on July 1. “In recent days, hundreds of firefighters have battled extremely dangerous blazes across Arizona and the Southwest. The federal government is already assisting, and we will remain in close contact with state and local officials to provide the support they need. But today, Michelle and I join all Americans in sending our thoughts and prayers to the families of these brave firefighters and all whose lives have been upended by this terrible tragedy.”
At least 200 structures had been burned, most in Yarnell, the Chicago Tribune reported, with most of those lost buildings homes.
“We can never repay these nineteen men and their families for their service and the ultimate sacrifice they made on our behalf,” Brewer said. “We can, however, offer them our deepest, eternal debt of gratitude…. When a tragedy like this strikes, all we can do is offer our eternal gratitude to the fallen, and prayers for the families and friends left behind. God bless them all.”