Fire Service Suffers Another Tough Punch

The fire service has taken a direct hit in recent months – and the 19 deaths of an elite Arizona wildland team Sunday pushes the number of on-duty deaths to 62.

All but one of the elite Granite Mountain Hot Shots team perished during a fierce battle with a raging wildfire in Arizona.

While the community was reeling about what happened in the Arizona forest, a memorial service was being held in South Dakota on Monday morning -- the first anniversary of the deaths of four North Carolina airmen who perished in a helicopter crash during a wildfire mission.

Last year, seven firefighters died fighting wildland fires, according to the USFA statistics.

This was the fourth incident this year that involved the multiple firefighter deaths.

Two firefighters were killed in Bryan, Texas on Feb. 16 while fighting a house fire.

Two months and a day later, 10 responders in West, Texas answered their final alarm when a fertilizer plant exploded. Until Sunday, it was the greatest loss of life of fire personnel since Sept. 11.

The tragedies in Texas continued in May with the loss of four Houston firefighters who gave the ultimate sacrifice in a motel fire.

Both the Houston and Arizona incidents occurred on the last day of the month.

USFA Administrator Ernie Mitchell said he was sadden by the loss.

“It is with great sorrow that I received news of the loss of 19 firefighters responding to the Yarnell Hill Fire in Yavapai County, Arizona. This is a tragic loss for the citizens of Arizona and the nation as a whole. These brave firefighters were responding to a wildfire with the potential to destroy homes and structures in a wildfire season among the worst in many years,” he said in a prepared statement. 

Mitchell promised his agency will do what it can to assist. “The U.S. Fire Administration remains in close coordination with the firefighting communities in Arizona, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Department of Interior, and the National Interagency Fire Center. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recently awarded a fire management assistance grant for the Yarnell Hill Fire, making financial support available for ongoing efforts to fight and mitigate the volatile wildfire conditions.”

Also on Monday, President Obama said he was "heartbroken" to hear about the firefighters' deaths.