The raging Arizona wildfire killed 19 elite firefighters on Sunday. That’s the greatest loss of life for firefighters since September 11, 2001 that killed 341 firefighters, said the National Fire Protection Association. The firefighters belonged to the Prescott Fire Department. They were battling a rapidly moving wildfire before being trapped near Yarnell.

Wildfire Arizona

Rigorously-trained Firefighters

The tragic incident was ever more shocking because the firefighters belonged to an elite group called Granite Mountain Hotshots. They would confront wildfire very close. The firefighters were there to set up barriers so that the destructive spread of wildfire could be stopped. They had such a high level of training and awareness that such an event was unimaginable. The cause of deaths is still under investigation.

Dan Fraijo, chief of Prescott Fire Department, said that the group had 20 men. One of them was in a different location, and he survived. Fraijo blamed the tinder-dry conditions and unpredictable weather for the incidence. Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer said that it’s a dark day for the state and it shows that firefighting is dangerous work.

The Prescott Fire Department lost radio contact with them at 4:30 PM local time on Sunday. A spokesperson for Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office told Matt Pearce and Cindy Carcamo of The Los Angeles Times that bodies were spotted by a helicopter crew.

How Arizona Wildfire Began

Officials said that the Yarnell Hills fire was sparked by lightning on Friday. It had charred over 6,000 acres and ruined more than 100 structures, mostly homes by Sunday night. It was further fueled by a heat wave and dry winds. Authorities have already ordered the evacuation of Yarnell and Peeples Valley towns that are home to about 1,000 people.

It was one of several dozen wildfires in the western United States over the past few weeks. The National Fire Protection Association records show that it was the biggest death toll for firefighters in a wildland blaze since 1933 when Griffith Park fire in Los Angeles killed 29 men. In the 9/11 attack, 341 firefighters were killed in New York.

President Barack Obama, who is on a trip to Africa, expressed condolences. He said they were heroes who selflessly put their lives at risk to protect the lives of their fellow citizens whom they would never meet.