Nineteen firefighters from an elite team in Arizona were killed on Sunday while battling a fast-moving wildfire that destroyed scores of homes and forced the evacuation of two small towns northwest of Phoenix, the state capital, authorities said, Reuters reports.
The tragedy ranked as the greatest loss of life among firefighters from a single wildland blaze in the United States in 80 years, since 29 men died battling the Griffith Park fire of 1933 in Los Angeles, according to National Fire Protection Association records.
The doomed crew initially was reported missing before word came from the U.S. Wildland Fire Aviation service that the team had perished in the blaze, which erupted on Friday near the small town of Yarnell about 80 miles northwest of Phoenix.
Prescott Fire Chief Dan Fraijo called the tragedy “one of the worst wildfire disasters that’s ever taken place.” He said he did not know the circumstances that led to the 19 deaths.
He said one member of the 20-man crew happened to be in a separate location and survived. There was no immediate information on his condition.