19 Elite Firefighters Dead in Arizona
They were trapped by wildfire in Yarnell
By Newser Editors, Newser Staff
Posted Jun 30, 2013 11:09 PM CDT
Updated Jul 1, 2013 7:52 AM CDT
Dean Smith watches as the Yarnell Hill Fire encroaches on his home.   (David Kadlubowski)

(Newser) – Tragedy in central Arizona, where 19 elite firefighters are dead after getting trapped by a fast-moving wildfire in the town of Yarnell. Eighteen of the men were part of the Granite Mountain Hotshots crew from Prescott, reports the Arizona Republic. An additional crew member wasn't with his team and survived; the deaths wiped out 20% of the town's firefighting-force. "It's a dark day," Arizona State Forestry spokesman Mike Reichling told the Republic. The previous deadliest wildland fire struck in 1933, in the form of a Los Angeles fire that killed 25; yesterday's deaths marked the deadliest day for firefighters since 9/11, adds CNN.

The firefighters had deployed their emergency fire shelters, tent-like structures that the Republic describes "as a last resort to withstand the fire as it blows over." Officials say some of the dead were found in their shelters, while others were outside of them. The Prescott fire chief says of the shelters, "there's usually only sometimes a 50% chance that they survive." The Yarnell Hill Fire, which began Friday afternoon about 80 miles northwest of Phoenix after a lightning strike and has now spread to 8,000 acres, is expected to destroy about half of the town's 500 homes, authorities said. About 250 firefighters were trying to contain it as of last night, and that number should grow to 400 today.

View 10 more images