FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. -- Nineteen firefighters died battling a fast-moving wildfire in Arizona, a Yavapai County Sheriff’s official told the Los Angeles Times on Sunday night.
The toll marks the worst firefighter loss of life since 1933, when a blaze in L.A.'s Griffith Park killed at least 25.
The firefighters were battling the Yarnell Hill Fire north of Phoenix, which had consumed about 2,000 acres and was not contained, officials said. The blaze had claimed many buildings in the small Arizona town of Yarnell, Tony Palermo, assistant public information officer for the firefighting effort, told The Times.
"The fire just overtook them,” Art Morrison, an official with the state forestry service, told CNN, adding, “By the time the other firefighters got in, they didn’t survive.”
Morrison said there are normally 20 firefighters in a “hot shot” unit, the name for elite firefighting teams, and couldn’t explain why there were 19 victims.
“Hopefully they went out with one short,” an emotional Morrison said. “I started as a firefighter in 1968, and I’ve never seen anything like this.”
Roxie Glover, a spokeswoman for Wickenburg Community Hospital, said officials had told her to expect injured firefighters -- but then she was told they weren't coming.
“It became clear that the firefighters had been deceased,” Glover told The Times. “We were told that we were not getting firefighters.”
Glover said officials told her that the 19 firefighters who had perished were part of the Granite Mountain Hot Shot Crew. At least two firefighters were evacuated by helicopter to a burn center in Phoenix, she said.
Glover said homeowners had flooded into the hospital, suffering from smoke inhalation and shock after losing their homes.
Some who work in the hospital also lost their homes, Glover said.