Local firefighters react to Arizona wildfire deaths

The Yarnell Hill Fire marks the deadliest wildfire since 1933 - and the deadliest single event for firefighters since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Those figures are affecting fire crews here at home, especially those with wildfire experience.

South Bend firefighter Karl Hopkins now spends his days at Station Two along Lincolnway West, working on Engine Two. However, today's news brought him back to the mid-1990s.

"A loss of a whole hotshot crew, 19 of them with one survivor, it's just beyond belief. The kind of grief that community in Prescott is going to be going through, just awful,” Hopkins said.

Hopkins followed his dad, fighting wildfires in the most rural parts of Oregon during his college years.

"I started in 1995 - I did it ‘95, ‘96, and ’97 so I’m a bit out of the game, but it's a rite of passage out west,” Hopkins added.

The 19 that died Sunday were armed with deployment shelters - essentially a fire fighter's ejection seat - one that failed.

"It's aluminum foil with a cloth interior and it's got these pole straps. The idea is you shake it out, you step into it and you make a big jumping jack motion. You catch a bunch of air and you face plant right in the ground, catch as much cold air as you can, dig your face in the ground, ride it out and talk to each other,” Hopkins demonstrated.

An Indiana DNR conservation officer, currently working the West Fork Fire in Colorado, explained the change in mood at her base.

"This morning the incident commander called a mandatory all hands on deck meeting. He made an announcement, provided what few details he was positive of, we had a moment of silence and even delayed our operation for a few hours. There are a lot of people on my fire in Colorado that knew those guys so yeah it's a tough day, a tough day all around,” Indiana DNR conservation officer Angela Goldman said in a Monday afternoon phone interview with NewsCenter 16.

Until now the Copper State had suffered 21 wildfire firefighter deaths since 1955. That number now sits at 40 souls lost.


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