Today, federal leaders spoke to the nation and the families of the 19 fallen wildland firefighters lost yesterday at the Yarnell Hill Fire in Prescott, Ariz. This is the largest loss of wildland firefighters in a single incident since the 1994 Storm King Mountain Fire.
“Yesterday, the emergency management community lost 19 of our family,”Administrator Craig Fugate said in a media statement. “When wildfires threaten lives and communities, firefighters bravely face some of the most unpredictable and dangerous conditions that mother nature has to offer. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of those who lost their lives fighting the Yarnell Hill Fire in Arizona. FEMA stands behind the first responders who continue to fight the blazes across the West.”
The U.S. Fire Administration remains in close coordination with the firefighting communities in Arizona, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Department of the Interior and the National Interagency Fire Center. The agency continues to work with FEMA, which recently awarded a fire management assistance grant for the Yarnell Hill Fire for ongoing efforts to fight and mitigate the volatile wildfire conditions facing firefighters and the community.
“It is with great sorrow that I received news of the loss of 19 firefighters responding to the Yarnell Hill Fire in Yavapai County, Arizona. This is a tragic loss for the citizens of Arizona and the nation as a whole,” U.S. Fire Administrator Ernest Mitchell said in a statement. “These brave firefighters were responding to a wildfire with the potential to destroy homes and structures in a wildfire season among the worst in many years.”
President Barack Obama, who currently is traveling in Africa, expressed his condolences to the families of the 19 firefighters who died battling the wildfire. He said the federal government will be in close contact with state and local officials in Arizona to provide support, and the firefighters were highly skilled professionals who put themselves in harm's way to protect the lives and property of fellow citizens.
“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,” he said in a White House statement.
The fire started Friday and spread to 2,000 acres with fire crews working in triple-digit temperatures with low humidity and windy conditions. Officials ordered the evacuations of residents in Yarnell, a town of about 700 residents about 85 miles northwest of Phoenix, while crews fought the fire.
Nicknamed the Granite Mountain Hotshots, the firefighter crew from Prescott is comprised of elite firefighters who hike for miles into the wilderness with chainsaws and other gear to build lines of protection between communities and fires. They remove brush, trees and anything that might burn in the direction of homes and cities.
Prescott firefighters were forced to deploy their fire shelters when they were caught near Yarnell, state forestry spokesman Art Morrison told The Associated Press.
The National Fire Protection Association previously listed the deadliest wildland fire as the 1994 Storm King Mountain Fire near Glenwood Springs, Colo., which killed 14 firefighters who were overtaken by a sudden explosion of flames. Arizona had suffered 21 firefighter fatalities in wildfires since 1955, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.