BOISE -- Wildland firefighters who work out of the National Interagency Fire Center, or NIFC, in Boise are mourning the loss of 19 fellow firefighters in Arizona.
In one of the worst wildfire disasters in decades, a fire is being blamed for killing 19 firefighters and destroying hundreds of homes. The elite hot-shot crew died Sunday when a wall of flames overtook the group near the town of Yarnell.
"We're devastated. We just lost 19 of the some of the finest people you will every meet. I mean right now we're in crisis," Prescott Fire Chief Dan Fraijo, a former Boise Fire Chief, said.
At NIFC, firefighters say the tragic accident in Arizona was the first thing on their minds today. Smokejumper and former hotshot, Alex Abols, explains firefighting is a thrill, an honor and a passion.
"I love my job, I love what I do. I think for me personally, it's the people. They're not coworkers, they're family members," Abols said.
So on Sunday, he and other firefighters lost brothers in Arizona, in a stark reminder of the dangers on the job.
"Especially with such an elite workforce that is highly experienced and highly trained. To have that catch them off guard, it's an eye-opener," Abols said.
They're all trained and have special equipment but Abols says wildfire can change so fast it's hard to fully prepare for anything.
"The unknowns. It's a very dynamic work environment that we live and operate in. We can gather as much intel as possible, and we can pre-plan as much as we can, but there's a certain amount that just can't be foreseen because things can change at any time," Abols said.
Fire officials say those 19 firefighters relied on their training and deployed their emergency fire shelters, but the blaze was too intense to survive.
"We need to remember those individuals. We need to learn from whatever occurred out there. And ultimately instances like these, as unfortunate as they are, prevent future fatalities," Abols said.
The Arizona fire was triggered by a lightning strike on Friday and fueled by record heat and gusty winds. It's now nearly 9,000 acres in size, and has destroyed more than 200 homes.