19 Wildland Firefighters perish while battling Arizona’s Yarnell Hill Fire

Prescott National Forest - High winds and triple digit temperatures blew the Yarnell Hill Fire out of control Sunday, overtaking and killing 19 wildland firefighters. The blaze grew over 1,000 acres within an hour. 

The Granite Mountain Hotshots crew was forced to deploy their fire shelters when they became trapped by fire on a ridge; they were outpaced by the fire on their retreat to nearby safe zone. A fire shelter is a safety device of last resort used by wildland firefighters when trapped by wildfires. It is designed to reflect radiant heat and trap breathable air inside in an attempt to save the firefighter's life. According to Arizona State Forestry spokesman Art Morrison, the firefighters attempted to deploy their fire shelters, but either did not have enough time, or the fire was too intense. Only one crew member survived; he was moving the unit's truck at the time. 

Before the Yarnell Hill Fire, the Granite Mountain Hotshots crew had fought multiple wildfires across New Mexico and Arizona. The 20-member Hotshots crews are considered elite among wildland firefighters, due to their extensive training, high physical fitness requirements, and ability to complete dangerous assignments. Hotshots are specifically trained and equipped to work in remote areas for days on end with little or no support. From the Hotshots website: “We are routinely exposed to extreme environmental conditions, long work hours, long travel hours and the most demanding of fireline tasks. Comforts such as beds, showers and hot meals are not always common.” 

During the spring of 2012, photojournalist Jakob Schiller, accompanied members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots as they battled the Whitewater-Baldy Complex Fire in New Mexico’s Gila National Forest. Schiller’s raw and vivid imagery of the Hotshots crew can be seen in his story Photos: On the Ground at the Start of Fire Season Prescott Fire Chief Dan Fraijo said the firefighters that perished also worked for the city’s fire department. "We're devastated," Fraijo said late Sunday. "We just lost 19 of the finest people you'll ever meet." 

Monday evening, the city of Prescott released the names of the firefighters who died. They are: 

Andrew Ashcraft, 29 | Kevin Woyjeck, 21 | Anthony Rose, 23 | Eric Marsh, 43 | Christopher MacKenzie, 30 | Robert Caldwell, 23 | Clayton Whitted , 28 | Scott Norris, 28 | Dustin Deford, 24 | Sean Misner, 26 | Garret Zuppiger, 27 | Travis Carter, 31 | Grant McKee, 21 | Travis Turbyfill, 27 | Jesse Steed, 36 | Wade Parker, 22 | Joe Thurston, 32 | William Warneke, 25 | John Percin, 24 

Photo: NMBR wildland photography archive image ©JakeQuiñones/NMBR

Published on: 
July 1, 2013

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