Hear Arizona firefighters' last message in inferno

Dec. 17, 2013 at 1:30 AM   |   0 comments

PHOENIX, Dec. 17 (UPI) -- The final radio message of 19 Arizona firefighters killed in a raging wildfire says they'll shield themselves using last-resort fire shelters, a video shows.

"Yeah, I'm here with Granite Mountain Hotshots," group leader Eric Marsh calls out over the radio transmission June 30 as the Yarnell Hill fire suddenly turned when the monsoon-storm wind changed, sending 100-foot flames racing toward the elite frontline wildland firefighters, trapping them.

"Our escape route has been cut off," Marsh tells Air Command, which was trying to determine where the team was located. "We are preparing a deployment site, and we are burning out around ourselves in the brush, and I'll give you a call when we are under the shelters."

Air Command says "copy that" and asks if Marsh can confirm if the firefighters are on the fire's south side.

Neither Marsh nor any of the other Granite Mountain crew members responded.

They had just moments to deploy the baglike aluminum foil, woven silica and fiberglass shelters in an attempt to save their lives.

The men were found dead later that day. Not all the bodies were found inside the shelters.

The video, taken from the helmet camera of a firefighter from another crew that was near the scene, was released almost two weeks after a state investigation concluded commanders made numerous mistakes in managing the firefighters as they battled the blaze 80 miles northwest of Phoenix.

Moments before the final transmission, the video, which shows thick smoke amid a pink-red sky, picks up above the sound of wind another imperiled Granite Mountain Hotshot yelling frantically into the radio for an aircraft to drop water or fire retardant on them.

"Air Attack, Granite Mountain 7!" the firefighter yells, referring to the hotshots by their original name, Crew 7.

An unseen firefighter near the helmet camera says, "This ain't good." Another says, "No, he's screaming."

Air Command, code-named Bravo 33, responds, "OK, unit that's hollering in the radio, I need you to quit it and break, Operations, Bravo 33."

Operations then says: "OK, Granite Mountain 7, sounds like they got some trouble. Go ahead and get that. He's trying to get you on the radio. Let's go ahead and see what we've got going on."

Later, Bravo 33 asks: "Division Alpha, Bravo 33. Do you hear a helicopter?" But there was no reply.

Deborah Pfingston, the mother of firefighter Andrew Ashcraft, who was among the dead firefighters, said the confusion heard on the recording is heartbreaking.

But she told Britain's Sky News the recording also captured something uplifting -- people acting with honor, even in imminent danger.

"These guys were working to save each other to the very last moment, and that is commendable," Pfingston said.

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