19 firefighters dead in Yarnell wildfire - wistv.com - Columbia, South Carolina

UPDATE

19 firefighters dead in Yarnell wildfire

© Photo taken by Rosemary Renaud. © Photo taken by Rosemary Renaud.
Granite Mountain Hot Shots are based in Prescott. (Source: City of Prescott) Granite Mountain Hot Shots are based in Prescott. (Source: City of Prescott)
Yarnell Hill Fire picked up momentum Sunday. (Source: CBS 5 News) Yarnell Hill Fire picked up momentum Sunday. (Source: CBS 5 News)
The wildfire is burning northwest of Yarnell. (Source: CBS 5 News) The wildfire is burning northwest of Yarnell. (Source: CBS 5 News)
YARNELL, AZ (CBS5) -

Nineteen firefighters were killed in a fast-moving wildfire in the central Arizona town of Yarnell late Sunday afternoon, said the incident command post.  

Eighteen of the victims were from the Prescott Granite Mountain Hotshots, fire officials said. It's not known where the other victim was based. 

One surviving Hotshot member was in a truck moving equipment when the other members were overtaken by the fire.

"We're an organization and city that's in grief," Prescott Fire Chief Dan Fraijo said at a news briefing Sunday night.

"Every precaution is always taken," Fraijo said. "The trouble is sometimes it's such an erratic situation. When you have that much fuel, in those dry conditions, it becomes very unpredictable."

At least eight firefighters suffered injuries and were taken to Wickenburg Community Hospital, said hospital spokeswoman Roxie Glovers. The extent of their injuries was not known.

The Yarnell Hill Fire burned at least 250 structures, command center officials said Sunday night.

However, Judi Kioski of the Arizona Division of Emergency Management on Monday said only 50 residences were destroyed but 500 were threatened by the fire. 

"This one just got out of hand quickly," said YCSO spokesman Dwight D'Evelyn. "The winds and the dry area just fed the fire.

Earlier, the 19 firefighters battling the blaze in Yavapai County had not been heard from as the wildfire headed into town, fire officials said.

Around 6 p.m., authorities said they were unable to establish communications with them, although they had been seen from a helicopter.

The Granite Mountain Hotshots were among the first firefighters to attack the human-caused Doce Fire that began June 18 in the Prescott National Forest, the Prescott Daily Courier reported.

Earlier Sunday, authorities evacuated the Town of Yarnell and Peeples Valley as the wildfire crept closer to homes, the Yavapai County Sheriff's Office said.

The evacuation area in Peeples Valley is west of Highway 89, north of Yarnell Road and south of Sorrell Road, sheriff's deputies said. 

Residents living in Double A Ranch, Buckhorn and the Model Creek subdivision in the Yarnell area had been under mandatory orders to leave their homes.

About 400 people live in Yarnell, and several hundred reside in Peeples Valley, according to the latest census.

The fire has closed about 15 miles of State Route 89, according to the Arizona Department of Transportation.  

The roadway is closed just north of Congress to south of Kirkland, from milepost 269 to milepost 285. Drivers traveling north or southbound are advised to use U.S. 93 or Interstate 17 as alternate routes.  

Sheriff's deputies said there are roadblocks at the junctions of Highway 89 and Hayes Ranch Road, Hayes Ranch Road and Sickles Ranch Road and Buckhorn and Frontier Road.

The fire broke out Friday after a lightning strike about four miles from Yarnell, said Arizona State Forestry Division Spokeswoman Carrie Dennett.  

The Yarnell Hill Fire grew to 800 acres by early Sunday afternoon.

Two evacuation shelters have been set up to help evacuees. One is at Yavapai College in Prescott at 1100 E. Sheldon St.,  the American Red Cross Grand Canyon Chapter said.

Another shelter has opened in the gymnasium at Wickenburg High School at 1090 S. Vulture Mine Road. The Red Cross opened that shelter because a 20-mile stretch of Highway 89 is closed, making it impossible for evacuated residents to get from Yarnell to Prescott.

Red Cross volunteers have set up cots and blankets for overnight stays, with evacuated residents receiving meals, as well as assistance from Red Cross nurses and mental health volunteers.

A shelter for large animals is set up at Hidden Springs Ranch, at 18701 Highway 89 in Peeples Valley.

Two hundred firefighters are trying to gain an upper hand on the wildfire.

A command center has been set up at Model Creek School.

The next news briefing is scheduled for 10 a.m. Monday in the Prescott city council chambers.

Stay with cbs5az.com and CBS 5 News for updates on this developing story.

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Copyright 2013 CBS 5 (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.

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