Convoy to take remains of fallen Arizona firefighters home

by Reuters
Sunday, 7 July 2013 11:59 GMT

By Tim Gaynor

PHOENIX, July 7 (Reuters) - A solemn caravan of vehicles carrying the remains of 19 firefighters killed battling an Arizona wildland blaze a week ago is set to leave Phoenix on Sunday on a final journey passing through the crew's hometown.

The convoy is to leave the Maricopa County Medical Examiner's office in central Phoenix late morning, passing beneath crossed fire ladders on a street flanked with fire trucks as it heads for Prescott Valley, about 100 miles (160 km) north of Phoenix.

It was the greatest loss of life fighting a U.S. wildland blaze since a fire killed at least 25 men outside Los Angeles in 1933.

The firefighters were all from the Prescott Fire Department's Granite Mountain Hotshots team. They became trapped when their position was overrun by flames from the Yarnell Hill Fire, southwest of Prescott on June 30.

Phoenix firefighters and residents are expected to turn out in force to salute the caravan, which will pass through Yarnell, the tiny scrub- and chaparral-ringed town the firemen lost their lives trying to protect, and their hometown of Prescott.

"We are one big brotherhood and sisterhood of firefighters, and ... this is an important way for us to show our respects," Captain Larry Nunez of the Phoenix Fire Department said of the planned procession.

The convoy's final destination is the Yavapai County Medical Examiner's office in Prescott Valley, 10 miles (16 kilometers) east of Prescott.

The lightning-sparked blaze has blackened some 8,400 acres (3,400 hectares) of rugged, brush-covered hillsides and ravines since it erupted on June 28. The fire was reported 90 percent contained on Saturday.

A memorial service to honor the firefighters is scheduled for Tuesday at an arena in Prescott Valley, Arizona. U.S. Vice President Joe Biden is expected to attend, as well as firefighters from department across the United States.

Officials plan to set up an overflow area to handle the crowd, expected to exceed the arena's seating capacity of nearly 5,000.

The deaths marked the greatest loss of life from a U.S. wildland blaze since at least 25 men died battling the Griffith Park fire of 1933 in Los Angeles, records show.

Federal investigators are probing the reasons for the deaths of the fire crew who were overcome as they tried to battle the blaze whipped up by winds that suddenly changed direction, engulfing their position in flames.

Investigators expect to release provisional findings by early September. (Editing by Philip Barbara)

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