Thursday, December 5, 2013
By Felicia Fonseca and Hannah Dreier / The Associated Press
(Continued from page 1)
Joanne Barringer, right, comforts her husband Dave Barringer of Las Vegas after hanging a T-shirt on the fence outside the Granite Mountain fire station Monday in Prescott, Ariz. Barringer, who said he works as a firefighter for the U.S. Forest Service, said he was friends with many of the 19 Hotshots who were killed Sunday when an out-of-control blaze overtook the elite group near Yarnell, Ariz.
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Toby Schultz pauses after laying flowers at the gate of the Granite Mountain Hot Shot Crew fire station on Monday in Prescott, Ariz.
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But its success depends on firefighters being in a cleared area away from fuels and not in the direct path of a raging inferno of heat and hot gases.
The glue holding the layers of the shelter together begins to come apart at about 500 degrees, well above the 300 degrees that would almost immediately kill a person.
"It'll protect you, but only for a short amount of time. If the fire quickly burns over you, you'll probably survive that," said Prescott Fire Capt. Jeff Knotek. But "if it burns intensely for any amount of time while you're in that thing, there's nothing that's going to save you from that."
Fire officials gave no further details about the shelters being deployed. The bodies were taken to Phoenix for autopsies to determine exactly how the firefighters died.
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 28-year-old Clayton Whitted, who as a firefighter would work out 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. A light rain fell over the area but did little to slow the fire.
"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.
"Until we get a significant showing of the monsoons, it's showtime, and it's dangerous, really dangerous," incident commander Roy Hall said.
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.
A makeshift memorial of flower bouquets and American flags formed at the Prescott fire station where the crew was based.
More than 1,000 people turned out Monday to a gym at the Prescott campus of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University to honor those killed.
At the end of the ceremony, dozens of wildfire fighters sporting Hotshot shirts and uniforms from other jurisdictions marched down the bleachers to the front of the auditorium, their heavy work boots drumming a march on the wooden steps.
They bowed their heads for a moment of silence in memory of their fallen comrades as slides bearing each man's name and age were projected behind them.
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Toby Schultz lays flowers at the gate of the Granite Mountain Hot Shot Crew fire station, Monday in Prescott, Ariz. An out-of-control blaze overtook the elite group of firefighters trained to battle the fiercest wildfires, killing 19 members as they tried to protect themselves from the flames under fire-resistant shields.
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