The state of Arizona is mourning the loss of 19 elite firefighters who died Sunday battling a wildfire near Prescott. It's the greatest loss of firefighters in this country since 9/11.
The firefighters were battling 6,000 acres of blazing brush northwest of Phoenix. Fed by gusty winds and triple-digit heat, the flames exploded out of control.
"We're devastated. We just lost 19 of some of the finest people you'll ever meet. I mean, right now we're in crisis," Prescott Fire Chief Dan Fraijo said.
Nineteen of the 20-member crew of the Prescott Granite Mountain Hot Shots died, with the lone survivor in a separate location.
Across the country, 110 Hot Shot crews are trained to hike into the wilderness and build lines of protection between people and fires.
In this case, officials said the fast moving blaze encircled the team, forcing all 19 to deploy fire-resistant shelters.
"When you have that much fuel and that dry of conditions and those kind of wind conditions, it can become extremely unpredictable," Fraijo said.
"This fire was very radical in its behavior," Arizona State Forestry Division spokesman Mike Reichling said. "That's what caused the deaths. It's the change in the radical behavior of the burning fuels. They were just caught up in a very bad situation."
"It may be days or longer before an investigation reveals how this tragedy occurred," Gov. Jan Brewer said. "But the essence we already know in our hearts: fighting fires is dangerous work."
The Arizona tragedy is the largest loss of firefighters battling a wildfire in 80 years.
Meanwhile, the flames are still blazing out of control in Yarnell, 80 miles northwest of Phoenix. It has consumed half the structures in town. Most people have evacuated.