June 28, 2013 was a sad day in Arizona, in the firefighting community, and across our nation. On this day, 19 firefighters were killed fighting a fire near Yarnell, Arizona when a wildfire turned deadly. The loss of life was the worst in Arizona firefighting history.
The fire was started by lightening, and the firefighters killed were all part of the Prescott Fire Department’s interagency Granite Mountain Hotshots. One other member of this crew who was a serving as a lookout survived.
Tragically, wildfires that may be under control one minute have the potential to turn into deadly infernos in the next minute with severe changes in wind direction, speed, and other factors. Firefighters thus are often put into situations in which critical decisions must be made as to whether to continue fighting a fire, or to take evasive action.
While firefighters are naturally concerned with having an “escape route,” an escape route can quickly disappear with a change in winds and fire intensity. Even if an escape route exists, a fire may turn and advance on firefighters so quickly that they are unable to make it out.
Today, we mourn those who lost their lives trying to protect our state, and remembering the families and loved ones left behind. While the Yarnell fire was caused by lightning, many other wildfires are caused by human error or disregard, such as when bans on camp fires are ignored. We urge everyone to be extra vigilant when camping and hiking not to take any actions that may result in a forest fire.