Skip to main content

Moment of silence only interruption in effort to end Arizona fire

By Michael Pearson and Matt Smith, CNN
updated 3:34 AM EDT, Thu July 4, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Containment is officially listed at 45%
  • Commander orders "an operational pause, in observance of our fallen comrades"
  • Authorities expect good progress on fires
  • The fire has burned about 13 square miles west of Prescott, Arizona

(CNN) -- Firefighters determined to snuff out a wildfire that killed 19 of their colleagues scoured the scorched earth near Prescott, Arizona, on Wednesday, searching for smoldering vegetation that could reignite and further spread the deadly Yarnell Hill blaze.

The nearly 600 firefighters and support workers assigned to the fire paused only to observe a moment of silence in honor of the 19 members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, who died Sunday when the fire took a sudden unexpected turn.

Lookout warned team before fire killed 19

How to help the families

The pause coincided with the movement of a convoy of vehicles driven to the fire by the Granite Mountain team. The vehicles are being returned to Prescott, where they were based.

To start the moment of silence, a loud alert tone sounded on firefighters' radios and an unidentified fire team commander announced, "As the crew carriers for the Granite Mountain hot shots leaves the Yarnell Hills fire and begin their journey home, all personnel in the incident will observe an operational pause, in observance of our fallen comrades."

Nineteen firefighters, part of an elite group called the Hotshots, died while battling a wildfire about 85 miles northwest of Phoenix on Sunday, June 30. Here are the 19 victims: Andrew Ashcraft, 29. Nineteen firefighters, part of an elite group called the Hotshots, died while battling a wildfire about 85 miles northwest of Phoenix on Sunday, June 30. Here are the 19 victims: Andrew Ashcraft, 29.
The Arizona firefighter victims
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
>
>>
The Arizona firefighter victims The Arizona firefighter victims
Community grieves for 'Hotshots'
Mom of fallen firefighter shares grief
Mother: He was my daughter's soul mate

Wildfire crews across the country were being encouraged to observe a similar pause sometime Wednesday, incident command spokesman Jim Whittington said.

"It makes this fire much different from the other fires we fight, and I think people really want to put this thing to bed and get rid of it," he said.

Wittington said he expected good progress on the fire and no further loss of life, but he said smoldering vegetation driven under and, in some cases, into crevices of rocks could quickly reignite under the right conditions and cause a sudden flare-up.

The fire was offically listed as 45% contained late Wednesday.

The possibility of thunderstorms Thursday afternoon offered little promise of putting out the fire, Whittington said. Not only is much of the wood and grass that the fire could burn sheltered from the rain by boulders and other terrain features, thunderstorms bring the possibility of lighting and high winds that could spread the flames, he said.

With so much of the work focused on ground work, four U.S. Air Force C-130s brought in Tuesday from firefighting duties in Colorado will likely not be needed to fight the fire Wednesday, Whittington said.

The aircraft, normally stationed in Colorado and California, are equipped with special firefighting gear that can dump 3,000 gallons of fire retardant in less than five seconds.

Remembering those who were killed

Families who were forced to evacuate because of the fire could be allowed back on their property by Saturday, Whittington said.

Earlier in the week, the Yavapai County Sheriff's Office advised residents in the communities of Peeples Valley and Yarnell to evacuate their dwellings. An estimated 200 homes and other structures have burned in Yarnell.

But first, fire crews have to ensure that no embers are still burning near the homes and that the areas are safe for people to permanently return. Utility crews also must reconnect service, Whittington said.

"There is is still a lot of work to do around the structures," he said.

Opinion: When heroes face down fire -- and fate

CNN's Dougald McConnell and Barbara Starr contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
Arizona wildfire
Nineteen firefighters died while fighting the Yarnell Hill fire in Arizona on Sunday, June 30. Get to know who these fallen firefighters were in our interactive.
updated 11:35 AM EDT, Mon July 8, 2013
The bodies of 19 Arizona firefighters killed in a wildfire went home in a somber procession of more than 100 miles across the state.
updated 9:26 AM EDT, Wed July 3, 2013
Brendan McDonough, a lookout for his elite 20-man Arizona wildfire-fighting crew, saw Sunday's blaze change directions and warned his team by radio from his hilltop perch.
updated 10:19 AM EDT, Tue July 2, 2013
The mother of one of the firefighters that died in a fire in Prescott, Arizona, remembers her son.
updated 10:08 AM EDT, Tue July 2, 2013
Joe Woyjeck last talked to his son Kevin, the outdoors enthusiast who took up his father's firefighting profession, on the phone just hours before Kevin died.
updated 9:29 AM EDT, Wed July 3, 2013
Fire falling and bouncing and pouring like lava down mountainsides. Fire taking your breath and replacing it with fire. Or at least that's what if feels like during a blow-up.
updated 10:56 PM EDT, Tue July 2, 2013
Piers Morgan talks with the family of firefighter Robert Caldwell, who lost his life battling the Arizona wildfire.
updated 5:46 PM EDT, Tue July 2, 2013
One of the men killed fighting a massive wildfire in Arizona left behind a fiancee who is pregnant.
updated 12:16 PM EDT, Thu July 11, 2013
Memorials and vigils remember the men lost in the Yarnell fire.
updated 6:44 AM EDT, Tue July 2, 2013
They were part of an elite squad confronting wildfires on the front line, setting up barriers to stop the spreading destruction. But in their unpredictable world, it doesn't take much to turn a situation deadly.
updated 10:48 AM EDT, Fri July 5, 2013
Click through our gallery to see photos of the raging fires in Arizona.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT