Investigation Into 19 Firefighters' Deaths Begins

Jul 2, 2013
Originally published on July 3, 2013 6:22 am

Last night, the community of Prescott, Ariz., gathered in Fire Station Number 7 to mourn the deaths of 19 members of the Granite Mountain Interagency Hotshot Crew, which was based in Prescott.

The firefighters died battling the Yarnell Hills fire, which continues to rage.

Officials have launched an investigation into how the firefighters were killed and whether their deaths could have been prevented.


  • Nate Rott, reporter for NPR.
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YOUNG: Hundreds gathered last night in the gym of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Arizona, to mourn those 19 Hotshot firefighters killed in the Yarnell Hill Fire. Thirty miles south, that fire rages. And as the town tries to recover, Arizona officials have launched an investigation into how the 19 Hotshot firefighters were killed and whether their deaths could have been prevented.

NPR's Nate Rott is in Prescott with the latest. And, Nate, you know, are there really questions or is this a situation of, as you were hearing yesterday, a sad situation of wind turning and perhaps nothing that could have been done?

NATE ROTT, BYLINE: Well, it's probably a mix of the two. You know, obviously, with this kind of line of work and with Mother Nature involved, you never really know what you're going to get. But right now, every firefighter have to - has to memorize pretty much a 10 standard firefighting orders in these watch-out situations, which are just things that went wrong in past fatality fires, and that people can take and uses a tool going forward. But it sounds like from everything we're hearing that these guys were so professional and so well-trained and so experienced that that they would have known, and it might have just been Mother Nature.

YOUNG: And the fire is still raging. Give us a status of the fire.

ROTT: Yeah. It's still burning, uncontained and uncontrolled. As far as the firefighting efforts, there's over 400 guys on the ground that are still battling the blaze. A number of those are other Hotshot crews that have come down, driving up here yesterday from Phoenix. I saw two crew rigs going down towards the fire. There were air tankers and helicopters here too. There's water-dumping helicopters that were buzzing overhead yesterday while the memorial services were going.

YOUNG: And to you there in Prescott. We are now meeting some of the family members. A woman whose husband was killed, they have four young children under six. The mother of another young man who was killed, a fire chief in Los Angeles whose son was killed. What is the - this must be palpable there in Prescott.

ROTT: Yeah. I mean, it's kind of hard to quantify. I mean, grief, tears, shock. You name it. Like a lot of these guys, like you're saying, were local boys. A lot of them had children. Three of them are expecting children. One of them joined because his mother died from cancer. The thing is these are all things that the town knew. I mean, these guys lived in the town. They interacted with the town. They had friends in the town. They had family in the town. So at the memorial service that we were at last night, it was - I mean it was just, it was heartbreaking. There's no other words for it.

YOUNG: That's NPR's Nate Rott in Prescott, Arizona. Nate, thanks so much.

ROTT: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.