PRESCOTT: The bodies of 19 young firefighters killed in America’s deadliest wildfire in 80 years were removed in a cortege of white vans on Monday (Tuesday in Manila), as experts probed how they perished so suddenly.
The names of the dead men, mostly in their 20s, were released a day after the Yarnell Hill fire tragedy, in which all but one of a 20-strong elite team were killed, many in cocoon-like last-ditch protection shelters.
The blaze, which quadrupled in size overnight, was the most lethal since the September 11, 2011 which cost the lives of 340 firefighters in the ashes of the Twin Towers in New York.
As a makeshift memorial grew outside the victims’ home station, including American flags and 19 water bottles arranged in a heart shape, Arizona governor Jan Brewer ordered flags to be flown at half-staff through Wednesday.
“The Yarnell fire exploded into a firestorm that overran the local Granite Mountain hotshots,” she said, using the name of the elite firefighting unit, which typically goes in first to set up initial fire containment lines.
Recalling the 340 who died on 9/11, she added that “Just as we honor the memory of the firefighters lost that day as they charged into the burning towers, we will remember the brave men of the Granite Mountain hotshots.”
President Barack Obama telphoned Brewer—a Republican with whom he has previously had strained relations—to pledge federal aid to help learn from the tragedy, and deal with the blaze.
“He also expressed his gratitude to the hundreds of first responders who continue to work around the clock to protect homes and businesses from this deadly blaze,” the White House said in a statement.
The victims’ bodies were loaded into a fleet of white coroner’s vans Monday for the 135 kilometers south to Phoenix, where a large stars-and-stripes flag billowed in the wind as they arrived, guards standing solemnly by.
By Monday the raging fire had ripped through more 8,000 acres (3,200 hectares), up from 2,000 on Sunday, and was zero percent contained, officials said.