THIRTY MILES OUTSIDE PRESCOTT, Ariz. — Dan Fraijo doesn’t know precisely when his men left Prescott, nor what happened to them. But he knows they’re not coming back.
Nineteen firefighters with the Granite Mountain Interagency Hotshot Crew — an elite wildland firefighting unit sponsored by the Prescott Fire Department and its chief, Fraijo — died near Yarnell, Ariz., on Sunday in the worst wildland firefighting loss in the U.S. since 1933.
“Emotionally? We’re devastated,” Fraijo said at a news conference late Sunday. “We just lost 19 of some of the finest people you’re ever going to meet. Right now we’re in crisis. … Truly, we’re going through a terrible crisis right now.”
The men went missing as the evacuated town of Yarnell was ravaged by the blaze, fanned by winds sometimes exceeding 40 mph and temperatures approaching 100 degrees. One official estimated that 200 structures had been lost.
“This is as dark a day as I can remember,” Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer said in a statement. “It may be days or longer before an investigation reveals how this tragedy occurred, but the essence we already know in our hearts: Fighting fires is dangerous work.”
President Obama praised the firefighters as “heroes — highly-skilled professionals who, like so many across our country do every day, selflessly put themselves in harm’s way to protect the lives and property of fellow citizens they would never meet. … Michelle and I join all Americans in sending our thoughts and prayers” to the firefighters’ families.
Officials lost radio contact with the crew at 4:30 p.m. Sunday, said Steve Skurja, assistant spokesman for the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office. A helicopter crew spotted the bodies, he told The Times.
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