We mourn the deaths of 19 firefighters in Arizona who died fighting a fast-moving wildfire near the town of Yarnell, about 85 miles from Phoenix. Our thoughts are with the families and friends of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, an elite firefighting team. All but one of the team's members perished in the ongoing blaze.
This was an elite team. They were engaged in an extremely dangerous firefighting tactic called a "direct attack," in which firefighters get very near to the fire and attempt to create a break. The goal is to starve the fire of fuel. The firefighters are literally feet from the scorched earth and the flames several feet high.
Something went wrong yesterday. It may have been that extreme winds moved the fire, overwhelming the firefighters. According to news reports, the firefighters had deployed emergency fire shelters in an effort to obtain breathable air.
The 19 deaths are the worst loss of firefighters' lives during a wildfire since 29 firefighters died in a 1933 Los Angeles-area fire. On Sept. 11, 340 firefighters died as a result of the al-Qaida terror attacks.
The Arizona fire was likely started by lightning. With the West in the middle of a historic heat wave, it's been difficult to battle the blaze and others. In Yarnell, with only 700 residents, more than 200 buildings have been burned. Temperatures are higher than 110 degrees. Our sympathies are with the area residents as they deal with the devastation's results.
In such conditions, firefighters such as the elite 19 gave their lives to wage war on the flames. Hotshot crews move into fire spots in the wilderness carrying up to 50 pounds of equipment to clear the brush that feeds fires. Near Yarnell, there are still 400 firefighters battling the Arizona blaze. Nineteen have died, and the work goes on.
We owe a great debt to firefighters, police officers and other first responders. We agree with President Barack Obama, who called the men heroes.