Who They Were: The ‘Granite Mountain Hotshots’ – 19 Brave Souls Who Perished in Arizona Fire

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Above: The Granite Mountain Hot Shots of Prescott, Arizona. 19 of 20 crew members perished in the Yarnell Hill fire today.

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Gusty, hot winds blew an Arizona blaze out of control Sunday in a forest northwest of Phoenix, overtaking and killing 19 members of an elite fire crew in the deadliest wildfire involving firefighters in the U.S. for at least 40 years – and the worst since the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center on 9/11/2001.

The firefighters were members of a “hotshot” crew – the ‘Granite Mountain Hotshots’, tasked with digging a firebreak and creating an escape route. ”A hotshot crew are the elite firefighters,” state forestry spokesman Art Morrison said. “They’re usually a 20-person crew, and they’re the ones who actually go in and dig the fire line, cut the brush to make a fuel break. And so they would be as close to the fire as they felt they safely could.”

“In normal circumstances, when you’re digging fire line, you make sure you have a good escape route, and you have a safety zone set up,” Morrison said. “Evidently, their safety zone wasn’t big enough, and the fire just overtook them.”

The crew were forced to deploy their fire shelters – tent-like structures meant to shield firefighters from flames and heat – when they were caught near the central Arizona town of Yarnell. However the flames overwhelmed this emergency protection, and 19 of 20 firefighters perished.

Stand With Arizona is not going to release the names of those who perished at this time out of respect for their families. But we wanted to give our readers some idea of who these brave souls were. Some of those who died today can be seen in the photos and video below. God bless them all.

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The Granite Mountain Hot Shots, established in 2002, were an elite ground firefighting crew known for their innovative problem-solving and history of safe, aggressive fire suppression. Members of the crew were highly trained, came from diverse backgrounds, and worked long hours in extreme environmental conditions doing the most demanding of fireline tasks.

They carried 50-70 pounds on their back, hiked seven miles or more to where they needed to work, and worked up to 14 hours, sometimes longer. The average age of the men in the hotshot crew was 22-years-old.

“They have to be ready to leave for an assignment on two hours’ notice, which sometimes means missing family events,”Wade Ward of the Prescott FD said last week. “They have to be prepared to be on that assignment for 21 days, get two days rest at home, and possibly be sent out on another 21-day assignment.”

Prior to the Yarnell Hill fire which took nearly all of their lives, the team had just returned from a wildfire in New Mexico.

When this fire was reported. The team jumped into action to help contain the fire.

Just one week ago, the same crew also led the charge against the Doce fire in the Prescott National Forest.

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Above: A Prescott Fire Department Granite Mountain Hot Shots member sharpens
his chainsaw Saturday before a 16-hour shift battling the Doce fire, 6/23/2013.
(Wade Ward, Prescott Fire Department)

This video below of the Hotshots was filmed in April 2012. Chillingly, it shows the crew practicing the deployment of their fire shelters, which are aluminum foil and silica sacks that reflect radiant heat and have saved the lives of nearly 300 firefighters since 1977.

Reportedly, during the Yarnell Hill fire, the crew got into a catastrophic situation where sudden, fierce winds created a wave of fire which caught them in a ridge, unable to retreat to any safe zones. They deployed these shelters, but the fire was reportedly too intense to deflect. Only one of the crew of 20 survived inside his shelter, as 19 of his brothers perished.  Several were found dead inside their shelters. One escaped unharmed. One reportedly had burns over 75% of his body and died at the hospital.

The hotshot crew had never before been forced to deploy these shelters in a fire prior to today’s tragic conflagration.

God bless their souls. Our prayers for their families in this hour of unimaginable anguish. And our prayers to those still battling this hell on Earth in the ground in Arizona at this very hour.

Please leave your condolences for these remarkable volunteers below.

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About John Hill

John Hill is the Executive Director of Stand With Arizona, one of the nation's largest organizations opposing illegal immigration and amnesty. SWA's members have been instrumental in passing legislation in states and counties around the U.S., and blocking the DREAM Act in 2010. Join us!

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