World News‎ > ‎

Caravan Transports Bodies Of Arizona Firefighters

posted 1 Jul 2013, 15:02 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 1 Jul 2013, 15:02 ]

A procession of vehicles transports the bodies of 19 elite firefighters killed in an Arizona wildfire to the Maricopa County Coroners Office.

PHOENIXARIZONAUNITED STATES (JULY 01, 2013) (NBC) - A procession of medical examiner vehicles carried the bodies of 19 specially trained firefighters on Monday (July 01) who were killed in an Arizona wildfire that marked the greatest loss of life among firefighters in a U.S. wildland blaze in 80 years.

People stopped on the side of the road to pay their respects as the caravan made its way to theMaricopa County Coroner's Office.

The precise circumstances surrounding Sunday's (June 30) deaths of all but one of a 20-member elite "hotshots" firefighting team remained unclear a day after they perished while battling a blaze that has destroyed scores of homes and forced the evacuation of two towns.

But fire officials said the young men fell victim to a volatile mix of erratic winds gusting to gale-force intensity, low humidity, a sweltering heat wave, and thick, drought-parched brush that had not burned in some 40 years.

The doomed firefighters had managed to deploy their personal fire shelters, tent-like safety devices designed to deflect heat and trap breathable air, in a last-ditch effort to survive that ultimately proved futile, officials said.

"I just can't even imagine how the families and the friends that knew these individuals feel. It is just unbearable," said Arizona Governor, Jan Brewer.

Conditions faced by the "hotshots," a ground crew that fights flames at close range with hand tools and serves as the shock troops in a firefighting force, were typical for the wildfires they are trained to battle, fire officials said.

Standard safety protocols followed by such crews appeared to be in place, and investigators are trying to determine exactly what went wrong in this instance, they said.

The blaze was ignited on Friday by lightning near the town of Yarnell, about 80 miles (128 km) northwest of Phoenix, and by Monday was still raging unchecked after scorching some 8,400 acres (3,400 hectares) of tinder-dry chaparral and grasslands.

Sunday's disaster in Arizona marks the highest death toll among firefighters from a U.S. wildland blaze since 29 men died battling the Griffith Park fire of 1933 in Los Angeles, according to theNational Fire Protection Association.