Arizona lawmakers were reeling today from the deaths of 19 hotshot firefighters battling the Yarnell Fire near Prescott yesterday.
Gov. Jan Brewer ordered flags flown at half-staff for the deadliest wildfire in state history and the nation’s deadliest in 80 years. The blaze also claimed the lives of more first responders than any single disaster since 9/11.
“This day will be eternally etched in Arizona’s memory. It will forever ring as one of our state’s darkest, most devastating days. It will forever remind us of the constant peril our firefighters selflessly face protecting us. We can never repay these nineteen men and their families for their service and the ultimate sacrifice they made on our behalf. We can, however, offer them our deepest, eternal debt of gratitude,” Brewer said.
“As details surrounding this tragedy unfold, I ask that you continue to keep these men, their families and all of our first responders in your prayers,” she added.
Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), who represents the affected area, canceled a scheduled field hearing on IRS abuse and EPA overreach today to instead host a public memorial service at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, where donations were also to be collected.
“My heart weeps for those who lost their lives and were affected by today’s Yarnell Hill Fire. My thoughts and prayers go out to the families who have lost so much and the first responders battling this difficult situation. I urge others to join me in keeping those affected by this tragic fire in our thoughts and prayers,” Gosar said, offering his office’s assistance to anyone in need.
A number of homes have also been destroyed in the 8,400-acre fire.
Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) said he was “sick” at the news.
“It is an unspeakable tragedy for a town like Prescott and the surrounding communities to lose so many. My heart goes out to the firefighters’ families,” he said. “We are in touch with the White House and federal agencies to ensure that all necessary federal resources are being brought to bear on the situation.”
In Tanzania today, Obama said “obviously we’re prepared to provide any support we can in investigating exactly how this took place.”
“I think we’re going to have to ask ourselves a set of broader questions about how we’re handling increasingly deadly and difficult firefights. Wildfires have been continually escalating at higher and higher cost, and putting more and more pressure not only the federal fire services, but also on state and local fire services,” Obama continued. “And we’re going to have to think about what more we can do on that front. But for now, I think what we’re most concerned about is how painful these losses are.”
Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-Ariz.) said “it’s difficult to put into words the pain shared by all Arizonans this morning.”
“As the news of this tragedy unfolded last night, we at first felt shock and disbelief. And then a heartwrenching reality began to set in,” she said. “These 19 courageous firefighters will long be remembered as heroes, but today they are deeply mourned as family members, dear friends, neighbors and colleagues. My heart goes out to their families, and we will spare no effort to assist them and the good folks of Yarnell, Prescott and other affected communities.”
New Mexico Rep. Steve Pearce (R), an advocate of forest thinning and a critic of the U.S. Forest Service’s land management in this regard, said “as massive wildfires blaze across the West, policymakers must all be asking what went wrong, and what steps we can take to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”
“The devastating loss of life, homes, and forests that we see as a result of these fires must not be allowed to continue,” Pearce said. “As we mourn for these brave heroes, we must also remember the hundreds of courageous firefighters still in harm’s way as they continue to battle this year’s catastrophic fires.”