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Arizona fire grows as US mourns 19 firefighters

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Krista Kennell

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Officials mourn firefighters' death

Officials mourn as the bodies of the 19 members of an elite firefighting unit, who lost their lives in the Arizona fire, are sent to the coroner's office.

PT0M0S 620 349

Prescott, Arizona: Reinforcements have poured in to battle an Arizona wildfire that quadrupled in size overnight after killing 19 firefighters.

The Yarnell Hill fire - which killed all but one member of a 20-strong "hotshot" team - was the biggest loss of firefighters' lives since the September 11 attacks, and the most from a US wildfire in 80 years.

"They died heroes .. We'll miss them. We love them," said Ms Ashcraft, who learned about the tragedy while watching TV with her four children. 

"The Yarnell fire exploded into a firestorm that overran the local Granite Mountain hotshots," Arizona governor Jan Brewer told reporters.

The Yarnell Hill fire is seen burning in this view from Highway I-17 near Yarnell, Arizona, in this handout photo taken June 29, 2013.

The Yarnell Hill fire is seen burning in this view from Highway I-17 near Yarnell, Arizona, in this handout photo taken June 29, 2013. Photo: Reuters

Recalling the 340 who died on September 11, 2001, she added: "Just as we honour the memory of the firefighters lost that day as they charged into the burning towers, we will remember the brave men of the Granite Mountain hotshots."

The raging fire has ripped through more than 3200 hectares some 135km north of Phoenix, up from 800ha late on Sunday, and was zero per cent contained, officials said.

High winds were expected to worsen the blaze, complicating the task for the some 400 firefighters now battling it, up from 200 on Sunday.

The Granite Mountain Interagency Hotshot Crew -the elite team of 19 firemen were killed on Sunday in one of deadliest U.S. firefighting disasters in decades as flames raced through dry brush and grass in central Arizona, destroying scores of homes and forcing the evacuation of two towns.

The Granite Mountain Interagency Hotshot Crew -the elite team of 19 firemen were killed on Sunday in one of deadliest U.S. firefighting disasters in decades as flames raced through dry brush and grass in central Arizona, destroying scores of homes and forcing the evacuation of two towns. Photo: Reuters

"It's a very difficult situation," said Arizona land management spokesman Dennis Godfrey. "The high winds are a real danger ... It's even a greater danger when those winds are shifting directions."

Reuters reported that investigators have launched a probe on Monday into how wind-driven

flames killed the 19 firemen.

Members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots practice cutting fire lines in Prescott, Arizona, in this handout photo taken April 4, 2012.

Members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots practice cutting fire lines in Prescott, Arizona, in this handout photo taken April 4, 2012. Photo: Reuters

The dead firefighters' names were not immediately released by authorities, but Juliann Ashcraft told the AZ Central website that her husband Andrew died in the blaze.

"They died heroes .. We'll miss them. We love them," said Ms Ashcraft, who learned about the tragedy while watching TV with her four children.

The US southwest has seen soaring temperatures, with records broken over the weekend in Arizona and California.

Hundreds of residents of Yarnell and Peeples Valley were evacuated as the blaze continued to tear through the area.

As of Monday, there were over 40 active blazes in the four states, according to the InciWeb fire information website.

AFP

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