Deadly Yarnell Hill Fire explodes to 8,000 acres - WSMV News 4


Deadly Yarnell Hill Fire explodes to 8,000 acres

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The Yarnell Hill Fire burned at least 50 homes in the town of Yarnell, as well as killing 19 Hotshot firefighters on Sunday. (Source: CBS 5 News) The Yarnell Hill Fire burned at least 50 homes in the town of Yarnell, as well as killing 19 Hotshot firefighters on Sunday. (Source: CBS 5 News)

A wind-fueled wildfire that claimed the lives of 19 Hotshot firefighters on Sunday grew more than 10 times its size overnight, reaching 8,374 acres by Monday morning.

The procession have begun to move the bodies of the fallen firefighters from Prescott to the Phoenix medical's examiner's office.

Fire officials Monday morning said more than 200 firefighters still had not reached any containment of the Yarnell Hill Fire southwest of Prescott that was at 800 acres early Sunday evening.

The 19 dead firefighters included 18 from the Granite Mountain Hotshots based out of Prescott. Officials were still trying to determine the crew to which the 19th firefighter belonged.

There was one surviving team member who was driving a truck full of equipment and was out of the path of the fire when it overtook the firefighters, said information officer Mike Reichling.

Incident Management Team information officer Mary Rasmussen said during a news conference Monday morning that their first priority is retrieving the fallen firefighters from the scene. Rasmussen said they are also working to actively suppress the fire and protect the homes nearby. Authorities continue to investigate the exact cause and circumstances of the firefighters' deaths.

Gusty monsoon winds are believed to have played a role in trapping the firefighters, who had deployed their fireproof tents as they were overrun by the flames, officials said. They were still trying to determine the events that led to their deaths.

"The weather has really caused havoc," Reichling said. "This area has not been touched by fire in over 40 years."

Reichling and Fire Cmdr. Roy Hall said the nearly two-decade-long drought, low humidity and monsoon winds caused the erratic behavior "that caused the deaths on the hill," referring to the firefighters.

Reichling said help was on the way, including a Type 1 team that was expected to take charge Monday afternoon.

Judi Kioski of the Arizona Division of Emergency Management said only 50 residences had been destroyed by the lightning-caused fire, a stark contrast to the 250 homes reported to have fallen in the path of the flames on Sunday.

Kioski said 500 residences and 25 businesses were threatened.

The fire forced the complete evacuation of the town of Yarnell and surrounding areas on Sunday.

The Grand Canyon Chapter of the American Red Cross established evacuation shelters at Yavapai College in Prescott and in the Wickenburg High School gymnasium.

Red Cross spokesman Brian Gomez said 38 people spent Sunday night at Yavapai College and another seven stayed in Wickenburg, which was set up because a 20-mile stretch of Highway 89 was closed, making it impossible for evacuees to get from Yarnell to Prescott.

Gomez said residents, for the most part, were OK.

"Some people seemed to have had more heads up (on the evacuations)," Gomez said Monday morning. "In other cases, we're hearing stories of some pretty frantic escapes. With fire so unpredictable, it sounds like they were given as much a heads up as possible."

Gomez said residents who lost their homes face a long road to recovery.

"We can help with immediate needs, put a roof over their heads for couple days, a week, put food on table, clothes on their back, but we can't rebuild houses or restore possessions," Gomez said. "It will be a long, long process for these folks (to rebuild)."

The fire closed about 20 miles of State Route 89 between Congress south Kirkland, according to the Arizona Department of Transportation.

The fire broke out late Friday afternoon after a lightning strike about four miles from Yarnell, said Arizona State Forestry Division spokeswoman Carrie Dennett.

Gov. Jan Brewer issued a Declaration of Emergency Monday morning. The declaration makes $200,000 from the general fund available for support emergency response and recovery efforts associated with the fire. It also authorizes the adjutant general to mobilize the Arizona National Guard, if necessary.

Brewer was in California at the time of the fire and flew into Phoenix this morning and then to the Prescott area to speak at the news conference Monday morning.

"I said last night that my heart was breaking. I can't imagine how these families are feeling," Brewer said.

"(Yarnell Hill Fire) has killed more firefighters than any other disaster since 9/11," Brewer said.

"We will always remember the great men of the Granite Mountain Hotshots," Brewer said.

Congressman Paul Gosar, AZ-Dist. 4, will hold a memorial service for the victims at 4 p.m. Monday at the Activity Center, Building 83 on the campus of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott. It's open to the public.

Stay with and CBS 5 News for updates on this developing story.

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Copyright 2013 CBS 5 (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.

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