US fire that kills 19 firefighters spread to 8,400 acres



Houston: The fast-moving wildfire that killed 19 firefighters is now more than quadruple in size, as crews battle triple-digit heat and erratic winds in an effort to contain the blaze.

An Arizona community, ripped apart by the yesterday's monster wildfire, is mourning the loss of 19 "Hotshot" firefighters who were cut down in their prime. The loss of the 19 elite crew ranks as one of the worst wildfire disasters in history. They were between the ages of 21 and 43.

The victims - all men - were part of the elite 'Granite Mountain Hotshots' of Prescott in the worst wildland firefighter tragedy in the US since 25 died in 1933's Griffith Park Fire in Los Angeles. It's also the worst incident for firefighters since 9/11, when 343 members of the New York Fire Department died.

The members of Hotshots were hardened and highly trained to fight the fiercest of flames and would repeatedly put themselves in danger's way to save other people's lives. The heroes' names and stories were released yesterday as their family, friends, and co-workers struggled to come to grips with the tragedy. A caravan of white vans carried the bodies of the 19 firefighters to Phoenix, where the Maricopa County Medical Examiner will conduct autopsies.

Meanwhile, President Obama hailed the fallen as "heroes". In a statement released as he prepared to travel to Tanzania from South Africa, Obama said yesterday, "Michelle and I join all Americans in sending our thoughts and prayers to the families of these brave firefighters."

Flags were at half staff in downtown Prescott and many business had put up signs thanking firefighters.

"It's a dark day," said Mike Reichling, Arizona State Forestry Division spokesman.

Reichling said the 19 firefighters were found in an area that had 19 emergency fire shelters deployed.

Some of them were found inside their shelters: tent-like structures meant to shield flames and heat. They are typically used as a last resort.

PTI