Hundreds of firefighters battling a blaze outside the mountain town of Yarnell came off the line Wednesday to salute a procession of fire vehicles that had been left by 19 elite Hotshot crew members killed in the line of duty.
The firefighters and law enforcement gathered along a highway to honor the Prescott-based unit deployed last weekend. One of the vehicles held backpacks, water jugs and coolers. Another was emblazoned with the group’s motto, in Latin: “To be, rather than to seem.”
Fire crews across the U.S. planned to also pause throughout the day to remember the Granite Mountain Hotshots and recognize the dangers firefighters face, said Jim Whittington, spokesman for Southwest Incident Command Team.
“One of the things that defines the entire wildland firefighting community is we don’t forget,” he said, adding that crews pay tribute every year to those who have died in the nation’s worst firefighting disasters.
“And we will remember this one,” he said, his voice shaking. “It’s tough.”
In the biggest loss of U.S. firefighters since 9/11, violent wind gusts on Sunday turned what was believed to be a manageable lightning-ignited forest fire in the town of Yarnell into a death trap that left no escape for the team of Hotshots, most of them in the prime of their lives.
The last investigators of the nine-member team charged with finding out what went wrong arrived Wednesday and were being briefed.
Nearly 600 firefighters are fighting the blaze, which has burned about 13 square miles and destroyed an estimated 50 homes in Yarnell, a town of about 700 people. Hundreds were evacuated and crews erected perimeters around the homes.
Fire spokeswoman Paige Rockett said the forecast calls for lighter wind Wednesday but noted that drought conditions still make it a dangerous situation. The hope is to allow residents back into their homes over the weekend and contain the fire by July 12. It remained 8 percent contained Wednesday.