Yarnell Hill Fire officials: 129 homes, structures lost
Fire officials hope residents who still have homes can return to Yarnell on Saturday. (Source: CBS 5 News)
PRESCOTT, AZ (CBS5/AP) -
The toll from the Yarnell Hill Fire was already devastating with the deaths of 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots on Sunday.
But the toll for the residents of Yarnell took on added meaning Wednesday afternoon when fire officials informed them that at least 129 homes and structures were destroyed by the lightning-caused fire that began Friday.
Firefighters were working the ground checking for hot spots in and around the town as fire officials worked toward a very tentative goal of Monday for residents to return to what homes remain in the community ravaged by the deadly wildfire.
Jim Whittington, of the Southwest Management Team, said the goal was to ensure that there was no more fire danger in the town and that infrastructure, such as electricity, was restored to allow residents to return.
Residents were originally looking toward Saturday to return, but officials on Wednesday afternoon said the community remained extremely volatile and dangerous from the aftermath of the fire.
"We're not going to allow them to go in and out, and then in where we would have to take them out again," Whittington said. "We want the safety issues taken care of, and to have the infrastructure to support them."
Whittington said containment remained at 8 percent Wednesday morning and ground crews were checking for smoldering vegetation and debris among the boulders and rocks that could be whipped into a fire by the wind.
"They'll be walking around, checking, eyeballing and touching things to test for heat," he said. "They are trying to be deliberate and cautious and walk this fire and look at every nook and cranny."
He said 596 people, including support staff, were working the fire.
Whittington said fire officials expected weather patterns to be similar to those on Tuesday. He said the weather was fairly predictable until the late afternoon, when a storm cell developed over the area. He said some firefighters were pulled off the line as a precaution.
The fire claimed the lives of 19 Granite Mountain Hotshot crew members Sunday when wind whipped the flames into a firestorm, trapping the firefighters with no chance for escape and overrunning the town.
"When something like this happens, it weighs on everybody," he said. "It does make this fire much different than other fires. I think people really want to put this to bed and get rid of it."
Whittington said their deaths are being recognized nationally among all firefighters.
"It doesn't matter if you're walking 12 flights of stairs or a mountain, they share a brotherhood and it affects everyone."
He said the little rain expected from any thunderstorms won't make much difference in fighting the fire. Officials still fear unpredictable afternoon winds that could whip the fire up again.
Temperatures were expected to warm to above average in the mid-90s in the Yarnell area by Wednesday afternoon but temperatures will start to cool by the weekend, hitting the mid-80s by Saturday, said CBS 5 meteorologist Katie Baker.
She said winds would be coming out of the Southwest with a small chance of thunderstorms developing in the afternoon. Gusty winds would accompany any storm, she said.
In other news, the executive director of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation is traveling to Arizona to support the families of the 19 firefighters who were killed while battling a wildfire.
Ronald Siarnicki told The Frederick News-Post that the firefighter deaths have been "tough for all of us." He says the foundation immediately dispatched employees upon learning of Sunday's deaths. A Maryland-based coordinator for the foundation left for Arizona on Monday, and Siarnicki was scheduled to depart on Wednesday.
The Emmitsburg-based foundation is collecting donations that will be used to help relatives and colleagues of the firefighters who were killed.
The foundation says 67 firefighters have died in the line of duty this year, including the 19 in Arizona. Seventy-three firefighters perished while on duty last year.
Copyright 2013 CBS 5 (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.