One of the 19 firefighters killed near Yarnell, Ariz., on Sunday was the son Los Angeles County Fire Capt. Joe Woyjeck, according to fire officials.
"Our thoughts are with LACo Fire Cap. Joe Woyjeck and his family. Joe's son, Kevin, was one of 19 brave men who lost their lives in AZ fire," Los Angeles County Chief Executive William T. Fujioka tweeted Monday.
Kevin Woyjeck of Seal Beach was with the Granite Mountain Interagency Hotshot Crew, an elite wildland firefighting unit sponsored by the Prescott Fire Department, when he died in the worst wildland firefighting loss in the U.S. since 1933.
The men went missing as the evacuated town of Yarnell was ravaged by the blaze, fanned by winds sometimes exceeding 40 mph and temperatures approaching 100 degrees.
Officials lost radio contact with the crew at 4:30 p.m. Sunday, said Steve Skurja, assistant spokesman for the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office. A helicopter crew spotted the bodies, he told The Times.
He said all of the firefighters had deployed their fire shelters -- an emergency measure when there is no escape.
Skurja confirmed that 19 members of the 20-person crew had died. One survivor was hospitalized with injuries, he said, but he did not know the firefighter’s condition.
“The fire was very aggressive. It just overtook them,” Skurja said.
A 2012 Cronkite News profile of the team described a tightly knit unit that had never taken to fire shelters before while fighting some of the West's toughest wildland blazes. The team studied other fires in which crews had been overrun and killed by wildfires, even when taking cover in shelters.
Prescott Fire Chief Dan Fraijo described a unit that sometimes carried 40 to 50 pounds of equipment to build firefighting lines between erratic wildfires and the homes threatened by the flames -- a level of dedication that involved sometimes sleeping in the wild.
"Comforts such as beds, showers and hot meals are not always common," the team said on its Prescott city website, which had crashed Sunday night, presumably from visitor traffic.
"The nature of our work requires us to endure physical hardships beyond most people's experiences," the site continued. "Environmental extremes, long hours, bad food, and steep, rugged terrain, demand that we train early and often by running and hiking, doing core exercises, yoga, and weight training."
The site added that the group had a "fitness goal" of members being able to complete a 1.5-mile run in 10 minutes, 35 seconds; 40 sit-ups in 60 seconds; 25 push-ups in 60 seconds; and seven pull-ups.
“If you ever met them, you'd meet some of the finest, most dedicated people," Fraijo said.
The firefighters were deployed to battle a blaze in an area that Skurja described as rocky and extremely dry with deep canyons.
“The terrain here is rough and extremely rugged,” he said. “Firefighters have had a hard time.”