The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

State and Nation

July 2, 2013

Powerful winds expected at Ariz. wildfire

(Continued)

During a deeply emotional memorial Monday evening in Prescott, firefighters walked down the bleachers in a silent gymnasium full of mourners, their heavy work boots drumming a march on the wooden steps.

They bowed their heads for moments of silence at the front of an auditorium that was so packed organizers had to send people outside for fear of violating the fire code. The burly men then hugged each other and cried at the end of the service.

More than 1,000 people gathered in the gym on the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University campus as others throughout the state and beyond also mourned the deaths of the 19 Prescott-based firefighters killed Sunday outside nearby Yarnell. The day marked the nation's deadliest for fire crews since Sept. 11, 2001.

Prescott Fire Chief Dan Fraijo spoke in a shaky voice at the memorial as he described throwing a picnic a month ago for the department's new recruits and meeting their families.

"About five hours ago, I met those same families at an auditorium," he said. "Those families lost. The Prescott Fire Department lost. The city of Prescott lost, the state of Arizona and the nation lost," he said before receiving a standing ovation as he left the lectern.

Authorities are investigating to figure out what exactly went wrong after the wind suddenly changed direction. Atlanta NIMO, or National Incident Management Organization, will be the lead in the probe and will aim to put out a report in the coming days with preliminary information, said Mary Rasmussen, a spokeswoman for the Southwest Area Incident Management Team.

The multi-agency group of investigators arrived Monday and was being briefed in Phoenix. Judith Downing, a spokeswoman for the taskforce, said they would go to the fire scene Tuesday.

At last count, about 500 firefighters were on the scene, with more on the way. The fire has burned 8,400 acres, or about 13 square miles, as a heat wave across the Southwest sent temperature soaring.

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