Firefighters make even more progress battling deadly Arizona blaze

Story highlights

  • Yarnell Hill Fire is 90% contained, up from 80% earlier in the day
  • 19 firefighters' deaths were not preventable, Sen. John McCain says
  • Their deaths "brought the town together more," a Prescott resident says
  • A memorial service for the fallen firefighters is set for Tuesday

Another day, another reason to cheer -- after a week of tears.

Five days after 19 firefighters died while battling it, the Yarnell Hill Fire northwest of Phoenix, Arizona, was 90% contained, official Twitter and Facebook pages tied to the firefighting effort reported Friday evening.

That's an upgrade from the 80% containment from earlier in the day, and well above the 45% mark Thursday.

Authorities had announced they'd expected the blaze to fully under control by July 12, though it now seems they are ahead of schedule.

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Still, there's a lot of recovery to do -- physically, economically and emotionally.

The latter is tied largely to the sudden deaths last Sunday of 19 members of Prescott Fire Department's Granite Mountain Hotshots, in what ended up being the deadliest day for U.S. firefighters since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack in New York.

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    Officials have said it appears that, after conditions changed rapidly, the 19 lied down under fire shelters -- blankets meant to protect against flames and heat as a last resort against an inferno. But the flames overwhelmed them, and all died.

    "As far as we can tell, that this tragedy was not something that was preventable," Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican, said on Friday. "A freak movement of wind shift that took place is the primary cause."

    They will be remembered Tuesday at a memorial service at Tim's Toyota Center in Prescott Valley that will be attended by, among others, Vice President Joe Biden, according to McCain.

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    These weren't the only fatalities of firefighters battling wildfires this week.

    In an unrelated incident Friday morning in California, a firefighter died when a passing car struck him while he was working along Interstate 10 in the Thousand Palms area of Riverside County, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

    Authorities later identified the apparatus engineer/paramedic as 41-year-old Christopher Douglas, a Temecula resident and 8-year veteran of CalFire who is survived by his wife and 2-year-old son.

    As to the Yarnell Hill Fire, it was sparked June 28 by lightning some 3.5 miles west of Yarnell, according to Inciweb, a federal website that disseminates information from agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management.

    How to help the families

    It eventually scorched at least 8,400 acres. According to the Yarnell Fire District, homes or structures at 129 addresses were lost and many residents were ordered to evacuate.

    Since it erupted, and particularly since the firefighters' death, many in the area have rallied behind one another.

    The Arizona Diamondbacks Foundation, the charitable arm of the state's Major League Baseball team, announced that it is donating $200,000 on top of more than $100,000 that its fans donated in a four-day span.

    Prescott's annual Fourth of July celebration took on special meaning, including a display of 19 solitary, purple fireworks rising into the sky in memory of each man killed.

    Christina Johnson, a Prescott resident, told CNN affiliate KPHO that she felt it was important to remember the "honorable men (who) died to protect us and our property" -- something she said was important for them, their families and the community at large.

    "Prescott is a wonderful city, full of caring people, and I think it's brought the town together more," she said. "It's unbelievable. It's such a loss."

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