YARNELL, Ariz. — Hundreds of firefighters battling a blaze outside the mountain town of Yarnell came off the line Wednesday to salute a procession of fire vehicles that had been left by 19 elite Hotshot crew members killed in the line of duty.
The firefighters and law enforcement officers gathered along a highway to honor the Prescott-based unit deployed last weekend. The vehicles were driven by fellow Prescott firefighters. One of the trucks held backpacks, water jugs and coolers. Another was emblazoned with the group's motto, in Latin: "To be, rather than to seem."
Fire crews across the United States also paused throughout the day to remember the Granite Mountain Hotshots and recognize the dangers that firefighters face, said Jim Whittington, spokesman for the multiagency Southwest Incident Command Team.
"One of the things that defines the entire wildland firefighting community is we don't forget," he said, adding that crews pay tribute every year to those who have died in the nation's worst firefighting disasters.
"And we will remember this one," he said, his voice shaking. "It's tough."
In the biggest loss of U.S. firefighters since Sept. 11, 2001, violent wind gusts on Sunday turned what was believed to be a manageable lightning-ignited forest fire in the town of Yarnell into a death trap that left no escape for the team of Hotshots, most of them in the prime of their lives.
At one point, the blaze raced 4 miles in just 20 minutes, fed by the dry brush and 41 mph winds, said Yavapai County sheriff's Capt. Jeff Newnum.
Nearly 600 firefighters Wednesday were fighting the blaze, which has burned about 13 square miles. Hundreds were evacuated, and crews erected perimeters around the homes.
Crews have made significant progress in controlling the fire.
Authorities said Wednesday that the fire near Yarnell was 45 percent contained, up from 8 percent earlier in the day and 0 percent on Tuesday.