, LOS ANGELES, Jul 1 – At least 19 firefighters were killed battling a wildfire in Arizona, a spokesman with the Yavapai County Sheriff’s office said late on Sunday, updating an earlier toll of 18 given by the fire department.
They died sometime late on Sunday afternoon while fighting to contain the Yarnell Hill wildfire north of Phoenix, spokesman Steve Skurga told AFP, without giving further details.
He was unable to confirm whether the dead were the same 19 firefighters reported to be missing earlier Sunday by the Arizona State Forestry Division.
Arizona Senator Jeff Blake posted on his twitter feed: “I am sick with the news. Prayers go out to all affected.”
A state forestry official told CNN the firefighters were from a local “hotshot” crew who had been digging a fire line to contain the blaze.
“In normal circumstances, when you’re digging fire line, you make sure you have a good escape route, and you have a safety zone set up,” Art Morrison said.
“Evidently, their safety zone wasn’t big enough, and the fire just overtook them.”
A Facebook page was created in memory of the fallen firefighters, and showed a picture of the Granite Mountain Hotshots crew from Prescott, Arizona, with 19 men in the photo.
The fire broke out Friday and, according to the forestry officials, has covered 800-1,000 acres.
Residents of Yarnell and Peeples Valley were being evacuated, officials said on a fire alert website.
Local news site the Arizona Republic reported the fire was fast moving and that by Sunday night had not been contained.
Federal help was expected starting Monday, it reported, but officials expected that least 250 homes – about half of the town of Yarnell – would be destroyed by the inferno.