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Town Mourns Victims of Uncontained Mega-Fire in Arizona

July 2, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT

JUDY WOODRUFF: Investigators on the ground in Arizona are still trying to determine why so many firefighters died in Sunday’s tragedy, even as other crews are struggling to slow the blaze.

The morning brought calmer winds in Yarnell, Ariz., today. But the deadly fire that started Friday remained largely uncontained. Fire spokeswoman Karen Takai warned afternoon thunderstorms and winds today could bring more threats to the parched landscape.

KAREN TAKAI, Southwest Incident Management Team Spokesperson: There’s not a lot of large timber, but the vegetation out there, that mesquite is extremely oily. And once that starts, an ember gets into those extremely dry fuels, that fire is going to rip. And it’s very difficult to control that at that degree, especially with the winds that we’re having out here.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The dangerous conditions which claimed the lives of 19 Prescott, Ariz., firefighters Sunday. They died when the raging fire, fueled by sudden and changing wind gusts, overcame the crew.

Last night, fellow firefighters paused to remember their fallen comrades.

MAN: Andrew Ashcraft, 29.

MAN: Anthony Rose, 23.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And more than 1,000 people grieved the community’s loss in a Prescott gymnasium.

The city’s mayor paid tribute to the crew.

MAYOR MARLIN KUYKENDALL, Prescott, Ariz.: The city of Prescott, you and I, we lost 18, 19 wonderful individuals, family men, and it was like that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Elsewhere, family members of those killed spoke of their loved ones. Kevin Woyjeck was recalled by his sister as a third-generation firefighter who wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps.

WOMAN: My parents lost a son. My brother lost his best friend, and I lost my guardian angel. And it’s never going to be forgotten.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And Andrew Ashcraft, who leaves four children, was mourned by his wife.

WOMAN: We celebrated their dad and the hero that he is and will always be. And he’s an angel for us now.

JUDY WOODRUFF: An investigative team is being deployed to the area where the firefighters died.

Takai underscored, this fire is part of a larger trend.

KAREN TAKAI: We are in a long-term drought. And that keeps on being repeated. But that’s what we’re seeing with these mega-fires, that it’s throughout the Southwest. It’s not only here. It’s other areas.

JUDY WOODRUFF: In addition to the Yarnell Hill blaze, 15 other major wild fires continue to burn in the Western United States.