PD Editorial: Honoring fallen firefighters

  • Nineteen firefighters with the Granite Mountain Interagency Hotshot Crew -- an elite wildland firefighting unit perished in a wildfire outside of Yarnell, Arizona.

The dangers of summer fires were displayed in tragic form north of Phoenix on Sunday.

A crew of firefighters known as the Granite Mountain Hotshots, based in Prescott, Ariz., had been dispatched to combat an out-of-control wind-blown blaze. This is an elite team, one that's often asked to jump into the worst of the worst fires, clearing breaks, knocking down brush and doing whatever is needed to get an upper hand.

But during the course of their work on Sunday, something went tragically wrong. The workers were overrun, resulting in the death of 19 members of the unit. It's believed to be the largest loss of firefighters from a wildfire in at least 80 years.

Arizona Firefighters Die In Blaze


Chris MacKenzie of San Jacinto Valley, one of the victims, "was finishing his credentials to get promoted and loved the people" with whom he worked, said a friend of the 30-year-old. "It's an insane tragedy."

Insane is the right word. Overall, 14 of those who died were young men in their 20s.

Officials say the wind and a long-term drought that has plagued central Arizona contributed to the unpredictable behavior of the blaze, known as the Yarnell Hill fire.

The wildfire reportedly began Thursday with a lightning strike. But given the dryness of conditions, this could just as easily have been started by something else.

Which is why concern is so high in Sonoma County this week as the North Coast enters the season of dryness, high temperatures and fireworks — a potentially deadly combination.

As usual, fireworks booths opened in recent days in Sebastopol, Rohnert Park, Petaluma and Cloverdale. At the same time, fire officials began reminding residents that it's illegal to set off fireworks in the county's remaining cities as well as in unincorporated areas. Fireworks also are banned in Napa County except in St. Helena.

As Staff Writer Lori Carter reported this week, the big worry is that this holiday season arrives at the end of the second-driest six-month stretch in years in Sonoma County. Between Jan. 1 and the end of June, the region received just 6.71 inches of rain. One would have to go back to 1976 to find a drier end to a rainy season.

© The Press Democrat |  Terms of Service |  Privacy Policy |  Jobs With Us |  RSS |  Advertising |  Sonoma Media Investments |  Place an Ad
Switch to our Mobile View