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At least 19 firefighters dead in Arizona blaze

Video by Olivia SALAZAR WINSPEAR

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-07-01

At least 19 firefighters have died battling a forest wildfire in the state of Arizona, with local authorities expecting federal help on Monday to deal with a blaze they have been unable to contain and will likely destroy 250 area homes.

At least 19 firefighters died Sunday while trying to contain a wildfire in central Arizona in what is the state’s worst firefighter tragedy ever.

“This is as dark a day as I can remember,” Governor Jan Brewer said in a statement late in the day. “When a tragedy like this strikes, all we can do is offer our eternal gratitude to the fallen, and prayers for the families and friends left behind.”

President Barack Obama called the firefighters “heroes” in a statement issued while on an official tour in Africa.

Federal help to stop the wildfire was expected to arrive on Monday, with a spokesman for the Arizona State Forestry Division telling reporters that the blaze was burning with zero containment and spread well past 2,000 acres.

The wildfire was centred around the town of Yarnell, around 140km north of the city of Phoenix. It was likely the fire would destroy half the town’s 500 homes, the forestry agency added.

Earlier on Sunday, local authorities evacuated the towns of Yarnell and Peeples Valley, according to the Yavapai County Sheriff's Office. Livestock and other animals were also taken to shelter.

The deadly blaze came amid record-breaking temperatures across the US southwest and California, with Arizona firefighters battling at least three other fires across the state.

Eighteen of the 19 dead firefighters were members of the Prescott Granite Mountain Hotshots team, officials said. It was not clear what firefighting group the other victim belonged to.

One surviving firefighter from the team was rushed to Maricopa County Medical Center, the local CBS 5 television reported, adding that the person's condition was not known.

Date created : 2013-07-01

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