The deaths of 19 firefighters battling a wildland blaze in central Arizona on Sunday will go down as one of the worst firefighter losses in modern U.S. history, and officials were already honoring their deaths.
President Obama, traveling in Africa, issued the following statement a few hours after the firefighters' deaths near Yarnell, Ariz.:
"Yesterday, 19 firefighters were killed in the line of duty while fighting a wildfire outside Yarnell, Ariz. They were heroes -- highly-skilled professionals who, like so many across our country do every day, selflessly put themselves in harm's way to protect the lives and property of fellow citizens they would never meet.
"In recent days, hundreds of firefighters have battled extremely dangerous blazes across Arizona and the Southwest. The federal government is already assisting, and we will remain in close contact with state and local officials to provide the support they need.
"But today, Michelle and I join all Americans in sending our thoughts and prayers to the families of these brave firefighters and all whose lives have been upended by this terrible tragedy."
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer also issued a statement:
"This is as dark a day as I can remember, with Arizona suffering the truly unimaginable loss of 19 wildland firefighters. They were battling the Yarnell Fire, near Prescott, when the fast-moving blaze overtook their position.
“It may be days or longer before an investigation reveals how this tragedy occurred, but the essence we already know in our hearts: Fighting fires is dangerous work. The risk is well-known to the brave men and women who don their gear and do battle against forest and flame.
”When a tragedy like this strikes, all we can do is offer our eternal gratitude to the fallen, and prayers for the families and friends left behind. God bless them all.”