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Nineteen elite firefighters died yesterday while battling a fast-moving wildfire in Yarnell, northwest of Phoenix, Ariz.
The firefighters belonged to the Granite Mountain Interagency Hotshot Crew in Prescott, Ariz.
One member of the 20-person crew survived and has been hospitalized.
“We’re devastated. We just lost 19 of the finest people you’ll ever meet,” said Prescott Fire Chief Dan Fraijo.
The fire was started by lightning on Friday.
ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:
From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Robin Young.
JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:
I'm Jeremy Hobson. It's HERE & NOW. And in a moment, we'll meet the new mayor of Los Angeles, who starts work today, and talk to him about the challenges facing that city.
YOUNG: But first, and staying in the West, in a news conference minutes ago, an emotional governor, Jan Brewer, praised the 19 elite firefighters who died fighting the Yarnell Hill wildfire north of Phoenix yesterday. And Dan Fraijo, fire chief for the nearby town of Prescott, where the firefighters were based, was devastated.
CHIEF DAN FRAIJO: Those 20 firefighters were dedicated, hardworking, well-trained, experienced people. Whatever the situation was that took place, we haven't been able to explain yet but there's an investigation that's going to be taking place.
YOUNG: The firefighters, called Hotshots, were forced to deploy their tent-like fire shelters as a last resort. It was not enough to save them. There was on survivor who was moving the crew's truck when the flames engulfed the -others. And there's a growing memorial to the fallen in the parking lot of the Prescott Fire Department.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: This is all their cars parked right here in the parking lot, and this has kind of become a little bit of a community memorial, really. You can take a look. You can see that somebody came and they dropped off this American flag. And really, this has been happening out here all morning long. This man dropping off some flowers...
YOUNG: That sound from local television station ABC 15, a local station.
Peter O'Dowd is news director for HERE & NOW contributing network member station KJZZ in Phoenix. Peter, that just sounded so much like 9/11, you know, cars still where people left them parked. This must be devastating people in your area.
PETER O'DOWD, BYLINE: This is going to be really, really hard for the people of Prescott, for the people of Yarnell. Many, many homes in the town of Yarnell have been destroyed. When the governor came on just a couple of minutes ago, she was clearly very emotional. These are small towns and it's, you know, it's the Fourth of July. We're thinking about celebrating this time of year with fireworks and other sorts of sort of community events. This will certainly be a hard week.
YOUNG: Yeah, we know. Severe drought, dry conditions, perhaps a lightning strike starting the fire, and it's nowhere near contained.
O'DOWD: Absolutely not. Zero percent contained right now. The latest update from the incident commander is 8,374 acres burned. More than 400 firefighters are fighting this blaze, and the weather conditions, as you mentioned - I mean, they're just terrible. Over the weekend it was 119 degrees in Phoenix, just 80 miles away. The winds are blowing and there's a 30 percent chance for more thunderstorms up in the area later this afternoon. So, the weather conditions are incredibly difficult.
YOUNG: Well, Peter, what happens? We know that these elite teams of Hotshots, 20-person teams across the country - I think there are 117 - do they bring in another one? Or is there a pause? Or can you pause with a fire like this?
O'DOWD: No. I mean, the firefighters are still going. They're working, they have to work that fire on, you know - the Prescott Fire Chief Dan Fraijo, who you mentioned at the top of this segment, said that the other firefighters in Prescott were devastated, that this was in fact something that was going to be with them for a long time. But when the alarm rings, they have to go out and keep fighting this fire. So, whether or not more Hotshot crews will come in or not I don't know, but certainly 400 crews are there now.
YOUNG: Yeah. Well, we're reading that a wife of one of the firefighters found out on a television report that her husband was dead. You know, these are small towns in some ways, that people know someone who knows someone who knows one of these firefighters. When will the names be out?
O'DOWD: We're expecting the fire officials to come out - they said through a press release - later. Hopefully, today. The update was that the bodies were being moved to the Maricopa County Coroner's Office. And so, they've been very, very circumspect on the identities of these people. But we do expect to them hopefully later today.
YOUNG: Peter O'Dowd, news director for HERE & NOW contributing network member station K-Jazz, KJZZ in Phoenix. Peter, thank you.
O'DOWD: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.