Nineteen Arizona firefighters lost their lives Sunday while trying to defend Yarnell and the people who live there.  A shift in the wind trapped the Granite Mountain Hotshots, a team specializing in wildfires, who fell while attempting to keep the fire out of the town while residents fled as fast as they could (via Twitchy):

The firefighters died fighting the Yarnell Hill Fire near the town of Yarnell, about 80 miles northwest of Phoenix. Steve Skurja, a spokesman for the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office, said there were “several fires still active” in the Yarnell area. In a search of the scene, Mr. Skurja said, crews found the bodies of the firefighters.

They were members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, a specialist team of wildfire fighters based in Prescott, Ariz., said Mike Reichling, a spokesman for the Tempe Fire Department. He declined to identify the men until their families had been notified. …

Flames were traveling north, away from the small community of Yarnell, 4,800 feet up a mountain between Wickenburg and Prescott, in central Arizona. Some residents there left to go to neighboring Peeples Valley, where an evacuation order was in place, to help people pack up and leave their homes. Others stayed behind, watching the parched bush burn in the distance or, like Nina Bill Overmyer, 66, taking a nap.

Suddenly, the wind shifted and the flames changed direction, rushing through the forest straight toward Yarnell. Ms. Overmyer’s husband, Chuck, woke her up and they picked up what they could. He took his motorcycle. She took their Dodge truck, pulling the flatbed trailer bearing their lime-green Model A street rod, one of their most prized possessions. By the time they came back to get their dogs, the blaze was roaring just above them, rolling down the mountain and swallowing everything around: the town’s library, community center, diner.

Just to put this in context, the state had lost 22 firefighters in wildfires in the line of duty in the previous 58 years, until last night.  Apart from the horrific losses of the New York fire department (and NYPD, too) on 9/11, I can’t recall a single worse event in terms of loss of life for firefighter.  There may have been worse, but it’s difficult to imagine. Governor Jan Brewer called this “as dark a day as I can remember.” AZ Central has live coverage of the story:

“This is as dark a day as I can remember, with Arizona suffering the truly unimaginable loss of 19 wildland firefighters,” Gov. Jan Brewer said in a statement. “It may be days or longer before an investigation reveals how this tragedy occurred, but the essence we already know in our hearts: fighting fires is dangerous work. The risk is well-known to the brave men and women who don their gear and do battle against forest and flame.

“When a tragedy like this strikes, all we can do is offer our eternal gratitude to the fallen, and prayers for the families and friends left behind. God bless them all.”

Let this be a reminder of just how dangerous this calling is, and how fortunate we are to have men and women who answer this call.  Keep the families of these heroes in your prayers, and keep your eyes and ears peeled about how to provide assistance to them