YARNELL, Ariz. (AP) -- The 19 firefighters killed Sunday in Arizona were part of an elite crew known for working on the front lines of region's worst fires, including two this season that came before the team descended on the erratic fire that claimed their lives.
All but one member of the Prescott-based Hotshot crew died in what was the deadliest wildfire for firefighters in the U.S. in decades.
Prescott Fire Chief Dan Fraijo said the 19, whose names had not been released, were a part of the city's fire department.
Before the fire near Yarnell, the group - one of 13 Arizona Hotshot crews - had been profiled in local media last year as they prepared for the fire season and this year as they took on a blaze near Prescott earlier this month.
"The Hot Shots may be fighting the fire with fire," Prescott firefighter and spokesman Wade Ward told the Prescott Daily Courier in an interview last week (http://bit.ly/10tLAsZ). "They may be removing the fuels from the fire, or building a containment line that might be a trigger point for farther down the line."
He told the newspaper members of Hotshot crews are highly trained and work long hours in extreme conditions as they carry out the most demanding of tasks. When the deadly blaze near Yarnell erupted Friday, it came amid a severe heat wave that gripped much of the West. It grew out of control as it was fanned by gusty, hot winds Sunday.
"By the time they got there, it was moving very quickly," Fraijo told The Associated Press of Sunday's fire.
Hotshot crews - there are more than 100 in the U.S. - often hike for miles into the wilderness with chain saws and backpacks filled with heavy gear to build lines of protection between people and fires. They remove brush, trees and anything that might burn in the direction of homes and cities.
The Prescott-based crew last year had four rookies on its 22-member squad, according to a Cronkite News Service report that profiled the group (http://bit.ly/Id3Ca8).
State forestry spokesman Art Morrison told the AP that the firefighters were forced to deploy their emergency fire shelters - tent-like structures meant to shield firefighters from flames and heat - when they were caught in the fire.
The Cronkite News Service had featured the group in its story practicing such deployment in a worst-case scenario drill.
"One of the last fail safe methods that a firefighter can do under those conditions is literally to dig as much as they can down and cover themselves with a protective - kinda looks like a foil type - fire-resistant material - with the desire, the hope at least, is that the fire will burn over the top of them and they can survive it," Fraijo said Sunday.
"Under certain conditions there's usually only sometimes a 50 percent chance that they survive," he said. "It's an extreme measure that's taken under the absolute worst conditions."
President Barack Obama:
"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."
Sen. John McCain (R - AZ):
"This devastating loss is a reminder of the grave risks our firefighters take every day on our behalf in Arizona and in communities across this nation. Their sacrifice will never be forgotten."
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer:
"This weekend, our state lost nineteen of its bravest firefighters in the wake of the Yarnell Fire, near Prescott. This fire is the deadliest wildfire in state history, and our nation's deadliest in 80 years. The fire has also claimed the lives of more first responders than any single disaster since 9/11.
"This day will be eternally etched in Arizona's memory. It will forever ring as one of our state's darkest, most devastating days. It will forever remind us of the constant peril our firefighters selflessly face protecting us. We can never repay these nineteen men and their families for their service and the ultimate sacrifice they made on our behalf. We can, however, offer them our deepest, eternal debt of gratitude.
"As details surrounding this tragedy unfold, I ask that you continue to keep these men, their families and all of our first responders in your prayers. Remember that, for them, no task is ever without threat or danger. That they go to work daily with that risk in-mind makes them heroic.
"In their honor, I have ordered that all state flags be flown at half-staff from sunrise, July 1, 2013, to sunset, July 3, 2013. I hope all individuals and businesses join in this solemn tribute."
Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D- AZ):
"It's difficult to put into words the pain shared by all Arizonans this morning. As the news of this tragedy unfolded last night, we at first felt shock and disbelief. And then a heartwrenching reality began to set in. These 19 courageous firefighters will long be remembered as heroes, but today they are deeply mourned as family members, dear friends, neighbors and colleagues. My heart goes out to their families, and we will spare no effort to assist them and the good folks of Yarnell, Prescott and other affected communities. We will not forget the sacrifice of these 19 firefighters. They went to work every day - to a job that was dangerous and thankless. They will never return, and our Arizona family will never be the same. May their brave souls rest in peace."
Check on loved ones: www.safeandwell.org
Red Cross Shelter at Wickenburg High School: 1090 S. Vulture Mine Rd., Wickenburg, AZ 85390
Large animal shelter: Hidden Springs Ranch, at 18701 Highway 89, Peeples Valley, AZ 86332.
Small animal shelter: Yavapai College at 1100 E. Sheldon in Prescott.
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Copyright 2013 The Associated Press modified.