Firefighters killed in Yarnell Hill fire identified

July 1, 2013 at 11:10 PM
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YARNELL, Ariz., July 1 (UPI) -- The federal government Monday was in the process of taking command of Arizona's deadly Yarnell Hill fire from the state, officials said.

The fire was being reclassified from a "Type 2" fire commanded by the Arizona State Forestry Division to a "Type 1 fire" -- the most serious -- as the U.S. Forest Service took command of the fire, which killed 19 firefighters Sunday, The Arizona Republic reported.

"When you put a Type 1 team on a fire, that itself is a significant step. It puts more focus on it," Randy Eardley, a spokesman at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, told the newspaper.

The change means more resources will be brought to the area quicker, with larger teams of firefighters and more specialized experts.

The (Prescott) Daily Courier reported the fallen firefighters, all members of the elite Granite Mountain Hotshots of Prescott, were identified by city officials as:

-- Andrew Ashcraft, 29

-- Robert Caldwell, 23

-- Travis Carter, 31

-- Dustin Deford, 24

-- Christopher MacKenzie, 30

-- Eric Marsh, 43

-- Grant McKee, 21

-- Sean Misner, 26

-- Scott Norris, 28

-- Wade Parker, 22

-- John Percin, 24

-- Anthony Rose, 23

-- Jesse Steed, 36

-- Joe Thurston, 32

-- Travis Turbyfill, 27

-- William Warneke, 25

-- Clayton Whitted, 28

-- Kevin Woyjeck, 21

-- Garret Zuppiger, 27

The Prescott Fire Department withheld the name of a 20th firefighter who survived because he was working in a different location. Officials said it might be a few days before his name is provided, the Courier said.

The Republic said a caravan of vehicles carried the bodies to the Maricopa County Medical Examiner's Office in Phoenix Monday where autopsies were to be performed over the next two or three days.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer earlier said she planned to visit the area where the firefighters died and may call the Legislature into special session for emergency relief.

"This is as dark a day as I can remember, with Arizona suffering the truly unimaginable loss of 19 wildland firefighters," Brewer said in a statement issued Sunday. "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. The risk is well-known to the brave men and women who don their gear and do battle against forest and flame."

The firefighters died Sunday fighting the out-of-control wildfire in Yarnell, about 80 miles northwest of Phoenix.

"When a tragedy like this strikes, all we can do is offer our eternal gratitude to the fallen, and prayers for the families and friends left behind," Brewer said in her statement. "God bless them all."

Brewer ordered flags at state office buildings flown at half-staff from sunrise Monday until sunset Wednesday in honor of the firefighters killed near Prescott, Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., whose district includes Prescott, posted on his website.

About half of Yarnell's 500 homes were feared destroyed by the blaze, which was started by a lightning strike Friday evening and by Sunday consumed 8,000 acres. All of Yarnell and the neighboring Peeples Valley were evacuated.

"We are devastated. We just lost 19 of the finest people you will ever meet," Prescott Fire Chief Dan Fraijo said Sunday. "We're going through a terrible crisis right now."

It is the worst firefighting tragedy in Arizona, surpassing the 1990 Dude Fire near Payson, which killed six firefighters, The Arizona Republic reported. It was the worst wildland firefighting tragedy in U.S. history since 25 were killed in the Griffith Park Fire in Los Angeles in 1933.

Mike Reichling, Arizona State Forestry Division spokesman, said the 19 who died were found in an area that had fire shelters deployed. He said some were found inside the shelters and some were found outside of them shelters.

The firefighters were "doing what they normally do," Reichling said. "It's a dark day."

The 250 firefighters battling the fire Sunday was expected to increase to 400 Monday, Reichling said.

The wind-whipped fire prompted officials to close 25 miles of Arizona 89 between Congress and Kirkland, but residents of the hundreds of evacuated homes could still travel to a shelter in Prescott, the Republic reported.

Unpredictable winds, dry fuel and monsoon-like weather created conditions for the fire to spread quickly, Reichling said, adding that the winds shifted on the hotshot crew.

"They were caught up in a very bad situation," he said.

Gosar said in a statement posted on his website his "heart weeps for those who have lost their lives.

"My thoughts and prayers go out to the families who have lost so much and the first responders battling this difficult situation," he said.

President Obama called the victims heroes and recognized the hundreds of firefighters battling fires across Arizona and the Southwest.

"Yesterday, 19 firefighters were killed in the line of duty while fighting a wildfire outside Yarnell, Arizona," Obama said in the statement issued Monday. "They were heroes -- highly skilled professionals who, like so many across our country do every day, selflessly put themselves in harm's way to protect the lives and property of fellow citizens they would never meet."

The federal government is ready to assist and will remain in contact with state and local officials to provide support as needed, Obama said.

"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," Obama said.

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

Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., said he was "sick at the news of the deaths of 19 firefighters battling the Yarnell Hill fire."

"It is an unspeakable tragedy for a town like Prescott and the surrounding communities to lose so many," He said in a statement.. My heart goes out to the firefighters' families."

The Republic said a release from the Los Angeles County Fire Department said Woyjeck was the son of Los Angeles County Fire Capt. Joe Woyjeck.

Juliann Ashcraft told the Republic she learned her firefighter husband, Andrew, was among the victims as she watched the news with her four children.

"They died heroes," she said. "And we'll miss them. We love them."

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