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YARNELL, Ariz. (AP) — A sudden windstorm turned an Arizona forest fire into an out-of-control inferno that trapped and killed 19 firefighters, nearly all of them members of an elite crew of "hotshots," authorities said Monday. It was the nation's biggest loss of firefighters in a wildfire in 80 years.
The flames swept over the victims Sunday evening as they took cover in their foil-lined emergency shelters.
"This is as dark a day as I can remember," 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 windblown, lightning-sparked fire — which had exploded fourfold to about 13 square miles by Monday morning — also destroyed dozens of homes and sent hundreds fleeing from Yarnell, a town of 700 people in the mountains about 85 miles northwest of Phoenix.
Residents huddled in shelters and restaurants, watching their homes burn on TV as flames lit up the night sky in the forest above the town.
The fire killed 18 members of a hotshot crew based in nearby Prescott, plus a firefighter who was not part of the unit, Arizona Forestry Division spokesman Mike Reichling said.
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