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  1. #1
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    12.17.17 @ 11:54 AM
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    Default 19 firefighters killed battling fast-moving Arizona wildfire

    YARNELL, Ariz. Gusty, hot winds blew an Arizona blaze out of control Sunday in a forest northwest of Phoenix, overtaking and killing 19 members of an elite fire crew in the deadliest wildfire involving firefighters in the U.S. in decades.

    The "hotshot" firefighters were forced to deploy their emergency fire shelters -- tent-like structures meant to shield firefighters from flames and heat -- when they were caught near the central Arizona town of Yarnell, state forestry spokesperson Art Morrison told The Associated Press.

    The fire also destroyed an estimated 200 homes, Morrison said. Dry grass near the communities of Yarnell and Glen Isla fed the fast-moving blaze, which was whipped up by wind and raced through the homes, he said.

    CBS Phoenix, Ariz. Affiliate KPHO-TV reports at least eight firefighters suffered injuries and were a local hospital. The extent of their injuries wasn't known.

    The fire still burned late Sunday, with flames lighting up the night sky in the forest above Yarnell, a town of about 700 residents about 85 miles northwest of Phoenix. Most people had evacuated from the town, and no injuries or other deaths were reported.

    The fire started after a lightning strike on Friday and spread to some 8,000 acres on Sunday amid triple-digit temperatures, low humidity and windy conditions, state forestry spokesperson Carrie Dennett told CBS News, adding that the flames were zero percent contained.

    The disaster all but wiped out the 20-member Hotshot fire crew based in Prescott, leaving the city's fire department reeling.

    "We grieve for the family. We grieve for the department. We grieve for the city," Prescott Fire Chief Dan Fraijo said at a news conference Sunday evening. "We're devastated. We just lost 19 of the finest people you'll ever meet."

    "Every precaution is always taken," Fraijo said. "The trouble is, sometimes it's such an erratic situation. When you have that much fuel, in those dry conditions, it becomes very unpredictable."

    Hot shot crews are elite firefighters who often hike for miles into the wilderness with chain saws and backpacks filled with heavy gear to build lines of protection between people and fires. They remove brush, trees and anything that might burn in the direction of homes and cities.

    The crew killed in the blaze had worked other wildfires in recent weeks in New Mexico and Arizona, Fraijo said.

    "By the time they got there, it was moving very quickly," he told the AP of Sunday's fire.

    He added that the firefighters had to deploy the emergency shelters when "something drastic" occurred.

    "One of the last fail safe methods that a firefighter can do under those conditions is literally to dig as much as they can down and cover themselves with a protective -- kinda looks like a foil type -- fire-resistant material -- with the desire, the hope at least, is that the fire will burn over the top of them and they can survive it," Fraijo said.

    "Under certain conditions, there's usually only sometimes a 50 percent chance that they survive," he said. "It's an extreme measure that's taken under the absolute worst conditions."

    Nineteen fire shelters were deployed, and some of the firefighters were found inside them, while others were outside the shelters, Mike Reichling, Arizona State Forestry Division spokesman, told the Arizona Republic.

    The National Fire Protection Association had previously listed the deadliest wildland fire involving firefighters as the 1994 Storm King Fire near Glenwood Springs, Colo., which killed 14 firefighters who were overtaken by a sudden explosion of flames. The association website lists the last wildland fire to kill more firefighters as the 1933 Griffith Park fire in Los Angeles, which killed 29. The most firefighters - 340 - were killed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York, according to the website.

    U.S. wildfire disasters date back more than two centuries and include tragedies like the 1949 Mann Gulch fire near Helena, Mont., that killed 13, or the Rattlesnake blaze four years later that claimed 15 firefighters in Southern California.

    President Obama expressed his condolences to the families of the 19 firefighters in a statement issued in Africa, where his trip continued Monday, calling the firefighters heroes and highly skilled professionals who "put themselves in harm's way to protect the lives and property of fellow citizens they would never meet." He said the federal government was assisting state and local officials.

    "This is as dark a day as I can remember," Gov. Jan Brewer said in a statement. "It may be days or longer before an investigation reveals how this tragedy occurred, but the essence we already know in our hearts: fighting fires is dangerous work."

    Brewer said she would travel to the area Monday.

    In a statement, Sen. John McCain called the "devastating loss" "a reminder of the grave risks our firefighters take every day on our behalf in Arizona and in communities across this nation. Their sacrifice will never be forgotten."

    U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar, whose district includes Yarnell, shot off a series of tweets Sunday night sending his condolences to those affected. He said his office will remain in contact with emergency responders and would offer help to those who needed it.

    Other high profile Arizonans expressed their shock on Twitter, including former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords who called it "absolutely devastating news." U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., tweeted that he was "sick with the news."

    Chuck Overmyer and his wife, Ninabill, said they lost their 1,800-square-foot home in the fire.

    They were helping friends flee when it switched directions and moved toward his property. They loaded up what belongings they could, including three dogs and a 1930 model hot rod on a trailer. As he looked out his rear view mirror, he could see embers on the roof of his garage.

    "We knew it was gone," he said.

    He later gathered at the Arrowhead Bar and Grill in nearby Congress along with locals and watched on TV as he saw the fire destroy his house.

    "That was when we knew it was really gone," he said.

    He later fielded a phone call from a friend in which he said, "Lost it all, man. Yep, it's all gone."

    Morrison said the fire grew in intensity when winds began gusting at up to 24 mph in the late afternoon.

    "You get some winds, and it can take off on you," he said.

    Two hundred firefighters were working on the fire Sunday, but several hundred more were expected to arrive Monday when a new fire management team takes over.

    The fire has forced the closure of parts of state Route 89.

    The Red Cross opened two shelters in the area, at Yavapai College in Prescott and at the Wickenburg High School gym.

    Prescott, which is more than 30 miles northeast of Yarnell, is one of the only cities in the United States that has a hot shot fire crew, Fraijo said. The unit was established in 2002, and the city also has 75 suppression team members.

  2. #2
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    12.17.17 @ 11:54 AM
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    Thank you and God bless all the men and woman that choose this line of work. Lord knows there are safer and easier ways to make a living.

  3. #3
    Sinner's Swing! Dutchie5150's Avatar
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    12.18.17 @ 01:21 AM
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    People putting their lives on the line to help others they will never meet are the highest quality people. For this tragedy to happen to them is heartbreaking.

    Thoughts and prayers to all their families and friends.

    RIP Guys.
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  4. #4
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    12.17.17 @ 06:31 PM
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  5. #5
    Atomic Punk edwardv's Avatar
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    12.17.17 @ 03:05 PM
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    Not a good way to go. RIP
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  6. #6
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    Team's lookout ID'd as sole survivor in Arizona blaze that killed 19 hotshot firefighters

    The lone survivor from the elite 20-man Granite Mountain Hotshot Crew that suffered 19 deaths as members sought shelter from the fierce flames of wildfire near Yarnell, Ariz., was identified as the crew’s lookout and was away from the others at the time when winds changed the fire's direction.

    Brendan McDonough, 21, was assigned to give a "heads-up on the hillside" Sunday for the team. He notified the crew of the changing conditions before leaving his post, said Wade Ward, a Prescott Fire Department spokesman who relayed McDonough's story at an afternoon news conference at local high school.

    "He did exactly what he was supposed to," Ward said of McDonough, who was in his third season with the unit. Ward did not address how the 19 others responded after McDonough's warning or how much time they had to act.

    Ward said a lookout searches for trigger points and decides whether to move to a different location. He said McDonough radioed the crew that he reached the trigger point and was headed to safety. He asked them to contact him if they needed anything, Ward said. The fire continued to spread and he was taken to a safety zone.

    Ward said McDonough acted by the book. He even alerted the crew to the sudden change in wind direction, Ward said.

    “I can tell you that Brendan has no desire to speak to anybody at this point,” Ward said. “He is trying to deal with the same things that we are all trying to deal with but you can understand that that is compounded by being on the scene I ask you please respect him and his privacy.”

    Official standards say fire crews battling a wildfire should identify escape routes and safe zones and that crews should pay attention to weather forecasts and post lookouts. McDonough on Sunday was assigned to provide situational awareness to the crew throughout the day.

    The U.S. Forest Service adopted the guidelines after 14 firefighters died in 1994 on Colorado's Storm King Mountain. Investigators uncovered numerous errors in how that blaze was fought.

    "The reforms after Storm King were collectively intended to prevent that from happening again, which was mass entrapment of an entire Hotshot crew," said Lloyd Burton, professor of environmental law and policy at the University of Colorado.

    In the Storm King tragedy, a rapid change in weather sent winds raging, creating 100-foot tongues of flame. Firefighters were unable to escape, as a wall of fire raced up a hillside.

    "There are so many striking parallels between this tragedy and what happened on Storm King in 1994, it's almost haunting," he said.

    The Hotshot team from Prescott entered the smoky wilderness over the weekend with backpacks, chain saws and other heavy gear to remove brush and trees and deprive the flames of fuel.

    But the blaze grew from 200 acres to about 2,000 in a matter of hours.

    Weather reports from around the time of the firefighter deaths show how volatile the wind became. At 4 p.m., the wind was blowing out of the southwest, but one hour later, it had switched to the exact opposite direction and dramatically increased in speed. It was gusting at 22 mph at 4 p.m. but was at 41 mph by 5 p.m.

    "What limited information we have was there was a gust of wind from the north that blew the fire back and trapped them," said Prescott City Councilman Len Scamardo.

    Retired smoke jumper Art Morrison, a spokesman for the Arizona State Forestry Division, said it's essentially a judgment call in picking a safe haven to escape to if the flames suddenly blow toward crews and they have to flee for their lives.

    "Whatever they used as a safety zone just didn't work," he said of the Prescott team.

    Dick Mangan, a retired U.S. Forest Service safety official and consultant, said it's too early to say if the crew or those managing the fire made mistakes.

    "This just might have been a weather anomaly that nobody saw coming that happened too quickly to respond to," Mangan said.

    He said the crew members might have taken too many risks because they were on familiar ground and were trying to protect a community they knew well.

    "When you've got especially structures and residences involved, and you've got local resources, there's a fair amount of social and political pressure, some of it self-generated by the firefighters, who want to do a good job," Mangan said. "They don't want to see a community burn down. They want to get in there."

    A team of nationwide fire officials drawn by Atlanta NIMO, or National Incident Management Organization, arrived in the area Tuesday to find out exactly what went wrong.

    They plan to make their way into the charred fire scene and issue a preliminary report in the coming days, said Mary Rasmussen, a spokeswoman for the Southwest Area Incident Management Team.

    With the investigation just beginning, it's not clear what help water- or retardant-dropping aircraft could have provided for the doomed crew.

    One contractor, Neptune Aviation Services, had three aerial tankers making drops on the fire earlier in the day. But at the time the firefighters died, the planes had been grounded because of treacherous conditions, said chief executive Ronald Hooper.

    "It wasn't safe for them to be in the air at that time," Hooper said. There were "severe winds, erratic winds and thunderstorms in the area."

    However, government dispatch logs show at least two other planes were flying over the fire at the time, one large tanker and one small one. There was also at least one firefighting helicopter in the air early Sunday afternoon.

    On Tuesday, about 500 firefighters were battling the mountain blaze, which had burned about 13 square miles. Yavapai County authorities said about 200 homes and other structures were destroyed in Yarnell, a town of about 700 people. Hundreds were evacuated.

    So far, no part of the fire had been contained.

    Fire Cmdr. Clay Templin said the wildfire was "still burning very hot" even though there were not a lot of active flames. Complicating efforts were the "exceptionally" dry conditions from drought.

    "Whether it's brown or green, everything burns right now," Templin said of foliage.

    He urged residents to heed evacuation orders, saying "in these extraordinary conditions, we don't want to have another tragedy in Arizona."

  7. #7
    Atomic Punk Dave's Dreidel's Avatar
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    12.17.17 @ 03:33 PM
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    He might have done everything by the book, and that poor bastard will still feel guilty, I guarantee it, it is just human nature.

    He will probably be forever asking himself "what else could I have done?"

    I feel the guy, and I am a heartless bastard.
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