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Arizona wildfire continues to burn as 19 firefighters mourned

July 1, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
The grieving continues in Arizona for the 19 firefighters killed in a fierce wildfire. At least three of them were from Southern California.

Nineteen candles were lit at a memorial service Monday night to represent not only the brave sacrifice the men made, but the incredibly tragic loss of life.

"This magnitude of a disaster is just overwhelming," said Charlie Hernandez of Prescott, Ariz.

The bodies of 19 members of the elite firefighting crew have been retrieved from the mountain where they died. Prescott Fire Chief Dan Fraijo now says all 19 were from the Prescott Fire Department's Granite Mountain Hot Shot Crew. Authorities earlier said one of the men wasn't a crew member.

The City of Prescott released the names of the fallen firefighters Monday:

- Andrew Ashcraft, 29

- Robert Caldwell, 23

- Travis Carter, 31

- Dustin Deford, 24

- Christopher MacKenzie, 30

- Eric Marsh, 43

- Grant McKee, 21

- Sean Misner, 26

- Scott Norris, 28

- Wade Parker, 22

- John Percin, 24

- Anthony Rose, 23

- Jesse Steed, 36

- Joe Thurston, 32

- Travis Turbyfill, 27

- William Warneke, 25

- Clayton Whitted, 28

- Kevin Woyjeck, 21

- Garret Zuppiger, 27

One man who belonged to the 20-person team survived because he was moving the crew's truck.

The blaze, which erupted Friday with a lightning strike, has grown to 8,400 acres with zero percent containment as of Monday night.

More than 200 firefighters are working to contain the fire. Fire managers said a top-level management team and another four Hotshot crews were on the way Monday. They typically have 20 members each.

In a news conference, Prescott Fire Chief Dan Fraijo said the tragedy was devastating since the department had lost nearly all of its crew.

"We grieve for the family. We grieve for the department. We grieve for the city," Fraijo said. "We're devastated. We just lost 19 of the finest people you'll ever meet."

Hotshots often hike for miles into the wilderness with heavy gear to build lines of protection between people and fires. Though the team was experienced and trained, the fast-moving wildfire encircled them when the winds suddenly changed, forcing them to deploy emergency shelters, which they had never had to do on the job until Sunday.

As a last-ditch effort at survival, crews are trained to dig into the ground and cover themselves with the tent-like shelter made of fire-resistant material, an official said. The hope in a desperate situation is that the fire will burn over them and they will survive.

Nineteen fire shelters were deployed, and some of the firefighters were found inside them, while others were outside the shelters, Mike Reichling, Arizona State Forestry Division spokesman, told the Arizona Republic.

"Yesterday, nineteen firefighters were killed in the line of duty while fighting a wildfire outside Yarnell, Arizona. 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," President Barack Obama said in a statement. "Michelle and I join all Americans in sending our thoughts and prayers to the families of these brave firefighters and all whose lives have been upended by this terrible tragedy."

Authorities ordered the immediate evacuations of 50 homes in the Buckhorn, Model Creek, and DoubleABar Ranch Sunday. The blaze destroyed an estimated 200 homes in the small town. The wildfire had also forced the closure of parts of state Route 38.

3 firefighters killed in Arizona were from Southern California

At least three of the 19 firefighters killed were formerly from Southern California. Among those who died is Kevin Woyjeck of Seal Beach. The 21-year-old is the son of Capt. Joe Woyjeck, a veteran of the L.A. County Fire Department. He had graduated from Los Alamitos High School and attended Santa Ana College.

A flag flew at half-staff in front of the fire station in Seal Beach, as Woyjeck's friends and family mourned the loss.

"His goal was to become a professional firefighter, follow tradition like his father was," said Keith Mora of the L.A. County Fire Department. "He was working very hard. He was upbeat, loved to be around people, loved to help people, and he was working toward his dream ... It's a big loss for us today."

He was a seasonal firefighter in Prescott, Ariz., and was previously an explorer with L.A. County Fire. He also worked for Care Ambulance as an EMT.

Two other firefighters who died -- 25-year-old Billy Warneke and 30-year-old Chris MacKenizie -- grew up in the Hemet area.

Warneke's grandfather, Jack, says from a young age, his grandson wanted to serve.

"Right out of high school when he was just 17, he joined the Marines and was in the Marines for four years," said Jack Warneke.

He says after a tour in Iraq, his grandson enrolled in firefighting courses at a community college. He joined the Hotshot crew in Arizona this past April. His family said he was expecting his first child in December.

While Warneke was a relative newcomer, MacKenzie was a veteran, having served first with the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management in the Inland Empire. He moved to the Prescott Fire Department two years ago. He, too, followed the career path of his father, a retired Cal Fire captain.

MacKenzie's mother, Laurie Goralski, who is recovering after having a brain tumor removed, said her son came home to care for her last month. She last spoke to him the day before he died.

"I was very proud of him. He was a good kid and he's going to be so missed by everybody," Goralski said.

Prescott Fire Department's Granite Mountain Hot Shot unit was established in 2002 and had worked other wildfires in recent weeks in New Mexico and Arizona. In 2009, the crew helped fight the Station Fire, the largest fire in Los Angeles County history.

This is the deadliest wildfire since 1933, when 29 people were killed battling a fire in Griffith Park. It was also the deadliest day for U.S. firefighters since 9/11, when 340 died.

ABC News and The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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