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In Arizona, a solemn 100-mile procession for fallen firefighters

By Nick Valencia and Emanuella Grinberg, CNN
updated 11:35 AM EDT, Mon July 8, 2013
A procession of 19 hearses for the hotshot firefighters goes through Phoenix on Sunday.
A procession of 19 hearses for the hotshot firefighters goes through Phoenix on Sunday.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Bodies of Granite Mountain Hotshots return home Sunday after 100-mile procession
  • People nationwide travel to Arizona for procession honoring elite wildfire-fighting crew
  • "These men are heroes. They've earned the respect of everyone in this line," onlooker says

(CNN) -- The bodies of 19 Arizona firefighters killed in a wildfire went home Sunday in a somber procession of more than 100 miles across the state.

White hearses flying American flags carried the Prescott Fire Department's Granite Mountain Hotshots from the State Capitol in Phoenix to their hometown of Prescott, passing through the community where they died battling the Yarnell Hill Fire on June 30.

People from across the state and around the country gathered along the route of the public procession, withstanding triple-digit temperatures to pay respects to the elite wildfire-fighting crew.

19 profiles in heroism

"These men are heroes. They've earned the respect of everyone in this line," an onlooker told CNN affiliate KTVK as he awaited the procession in Phoenix.

Just one member of the elite 20-man wildfire-fighting crew survived the Yarnell Hill Fire, which started June 28 and spread to more than 6,000 acres in two days. The incident, part of a fire that destroyed more than 100 homes, was the deadliest day for firefighters since the 9/11 attacks.

Lookout warned team before fire killed 19

As of Sunday, at least 90% of the fire had been contained, officials said. Residents who were forced to evacuate Yarnell and Peeples Valley will be permitted to return to their homes at 9 a.m. Monday morning, a spokesman for the Yavapai County Emergency Management office said.

Expert: Shelters useless in Yarnell fire

Hotshot crews are called to get close to the blaze, dig barriers and clear out the brush and other material that otherwise would fuel it. Erratic winds were blamed on the sudden shift in the fire's direction that trapped the group. The deaths are under investigation, but officials have said it appears the 19 were forced to lie down under blankets meant to protect against flames and heat as a last resort against an inferno that overwhelmed them.

The procession of hearses and police motorcycles passed through Yarnell on its way to Prescott, where they will be honored in a memorial service Tuesday that Vice President Joe Biden is expected to attend.

The firefighters left behind wives and children. One firefighter left behind his pregnant fiance.

"I feel for the people they left behind," an observer of the procession in Phoenix told KTVK. "There's a story behind each family. The more I hear, the more sad it makes me."

Opinion: When heroes face down fire -- and fate

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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.
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Click through our gallery to see photos of the raging fires in Arizona.
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