Nightly News   |  July 01, 2013

Inferno too intense for elite fire crew

The 19 firefighters who died in Arizona’s Yarnell Hill fire were overrun by flames as they attempted to fight the monster blaze. NBC’s Miguel Almaguer reports.

Share This:

This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> good evening, and when the news broke late last night, it was such a staggering number, people wondered if what they were hearing was correct. 19 firefighters dead, all of them gone as a result of a single fire in arizona . they were all members of one hot shot crew and in the firefighter business, especially out west during fire season, hot shot crews are the equivalent of special forces . sadly, the staggering loss along with the destruction of so much property in and around yarnell , arizona , is proof that even the best are no match for a dangerous, galloping fire, moving fast with ample fuel. we begin with miguel almaguer in nearby prescott, arizona . good evening.

>> reporter: brian, good evening. the nation hasn't lost this many firefighters in a wildfire in decades. the blaze is still burning out of control as hundreds of firefighters on the front lines mourn the loss of some of their own. today, a convoy of coroner vans carried the bodies of the 19 fallen firefighters, died protecting homes, dying to save lives.

>> we think we have the area where the hot shot crews were.

>> the granite mountain hot shot team overcome by flames. the winds shifted and the flames turning on firefighters.

>> we are devastated. we just lost 19 of the finest people you will ever meet.

>> reporter: sparked by lightning, the yarnell hill fire exploded out of control.

>> we got our animals, kids, and we are safe, but our home will probably be destroyed.

>> reporter: hundreds evacuated, half the town decimated. 200 homes gone.

>> the house on fire when we left. everything was there but it was on fire. so it's gone.

>> who is headed up for the help with the downed firefighters?

>> reporter: officials say the crew deployed their fire shelters, an emergency tent-like blanket, designed to shield flames and heat. the inferno was too intense. the group of elite and highly skilled firefighters hike in for miles, carrying 40-pound packs, using chainsaws and shovels to cut firelines. teams can go two weeks in the wilderness.

>> it's challenging, the individuals that come through here, typically choose to do it, they enjoy the work, it is rewarding.

>> in 2003 , 29 firefighters died in wildland fires, in 1994 , 36 killed, including 14 at colorado's storm king mountain fires. in 1933 , 29 died fighting the griffith park fire in los angeles . the forest fire chief says everyone will examine the tragedy in arizona .

>> we absolutely have to learn from this tragedy in order to prevent the next one.

>> reporter: with the blaze tonight still burning out of control, entire subdivisions remain threatened. 400 firefighters now on the front lines , battling a deadly inferno with heavy hearts.

>> just proud of them. just proud of them and proud of our country. god bless them.

>> reporter: the yarnell hill fire is 0% contained, charred nearly 9,000 acres, a serious threat on the move. brian, the president called the 19 firefighters who lost their lives heroes.

>> miguel almaguer, starting us off not far from the scene.