President Barack Obama, on a trip in Africa, offered his administration’s help in investigating the tragedy and predicted it will force government leaders to answer broader questions about how they handle increasingly destructive and deadly wildfires.
The U.S. has 110 Hotshot crews, according to the U.S. Forest Service website. They typically have about 20 members each and go through specialized training.
Many of those killed were graduates of Prescott High, including Clayton Whitted, who would work out as firefighter on the same campus where he played football for the Prescott Badgers from 2000 to 2004.
The school’s football coach, Lou Beneitone, said Whitted was the type of athlete who “worked his fanny off.”
“He wasn’t a big kid, and many times in the game, he was overpowered by big men, and he still got after it. He knew, ‘This man in front of me is a lot bigger and stronger than me,’ but he’d try it and he’d smile trying it,” Beneitone said.
He and Whitted had talked a few months ago about how this year’s fire season could be a “rough one.”
“I shook his hand, gave him a hug, and said, ‘Be safe out there,’” Beneitone recalled. “He said, ‘I will, Coach.’”
Hundreds of people were evacuated from the Yarnell area. In addition to the flames, downed power lines and exploding propane tanks continued to threaten what was left of the town, said fire information officer Steve Skurja.
“It’s a very hazardous situation right now,” Skurja said.
Arizona is in the midst of a historic drought that has left large parts of the state highly flammable.
The National Fire Protection Association website lists the last wildfire to kill more firefighters as the 1933 Griffith Park blaze in Los Angeles, which killed 29. The biggest loss of firefighters in U.S. history was 343, killed in the 9/11 attack on New York.
In 1994, the Storm King Fire near Glenwood Springs, Colo., killed 14 firefighters who were overtaken by an explosion of flames.