Local fire crews are mourning the loss of 19 brothers today after they were killed while battling the Yarnell Hill fire in Arizona.
"It's hard to even imagine 19 firefighters being killed at one time," said Rhea Cooper, Assistant Chief of the Northwest branch of the Texas A&M Forest Service. "Back in 2011, we had the big fire season here, those people from Arizona, those Hot Shot crews were coming out here to help the citizens of the State of Texas."
The Hot Shot crew they were part of is an elite unit in the firefighting community. They use hand tools to dig a fire line and are the first line of defense in battling any wildfire.
"They are the best of the best as far as training and being in shape and as far as their knowledge of fires like that. They're a hand crew so they have tools that they go out with and they are actually digging line with things like rakes and shovels..." Cooper said.
Last year the 19 firefighters that passed away were in Texas helping to fight the Livermore Ranch Fire near Fort Davis. That's where crews from Lubbock had the opportunity to work with them.
"Our firefighters have been out there on the front line with this crew. In 2012 we had firefighters out there working side by side with this Hot Shot crew. I have one firefighter on a task force in Colorado fighting a fire right now that came from Arizona. That was his territory and he knew each one of those firefighters on that Hot Shot crew personally," Cooper said.
Justin Musgraves is the Regional Fire Coordinator for the Texas A&M Forest Service out of Lubbock. He has a lot of experience battling wildfires on the front lines and feels for the crews in Arizona.
"You're working 14, 16 hour days, maybe 21 days in a row. It's hot, it's smoky, it's dirty. A lot of times you're working with little food, little water - then add onto that your friends, your co-workers are losing their lives fighting the same battle. I couldn't even imagine. I think it would just be impossible to carry on at that point," he said.
Rhea Cooper said that representatives from the Texas A&M Forest Service will be sent to Arizona to honor the victims. He said this is the largest number of firefighters that have been killed in a single incident since September 11, 2001.
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