Photo of Yarnell Hill fire
Arizona Central has confirmed the deaths of 19 courageous firefighters in the Yarnell Hill Fire that ripped through the town, destroying half of the homes, in the worst fire in Arizona history. Eighteen of the firefighters were members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots team and all were found near or inside a shelter, the havens of last resort when fire blows over. The erratic fire was subject to fierce winds, low humidity, and 101 degree temperatures.
Family and friends gathered in the Middle School parking lot waiting for word about their loved ones.
Juliann Ashcraft found out that her firefighter husband Andrew died from watching the news with her four children.
“They died heroes,” she said, crying and wiping tears away from her eyes. “And we’ll miss them. We love them.”
Gov. Jan Brewer offered her condolences in a statement:
“This is as dark a day as I can remember, with Arizona suffering the truly unimaginable loss of 19 wildland firefighters,” the statement said. “It may be days or longer before an investigation reveals how this tragedy occurred. 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. God bless them all.”
Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett heard via text messages that a family friend was among those lost.
“It looked like hell coming over that ridge,” Annie Gaines said. “There was a towering inferno.”
Annie said she was frustrated with the information trickling in, but news of the firefighters’ deaths hit hard.
“It makes me sick,” she said. “They’re up there and they were just trying to save stuff. Nothing up that canyon was worth their lives. I feel sort of responsible.”
The fire began at about 5:30 pm Friday and moved north and east at a half mile per hour as 250 firefighters fought to contain the blaze amid massive evacuations and some injuries.
By Sunday night, it was contained zero percent.
Estimated costs of the damage are upwards of $6 million.