The Hotshots crew had deployed Sunday to what was thought to be a manageable lightning-caused forest fire near the small town of Yarnell, about 60 miles from Phoenix. Violent winds fueled the blaze and trapped the highly trained firefighters, most of them in the prime of their lives. The Hotshots deployed their fire shelters, which can briefly protect people from flames, but only the crew's lookout survived.
The nation's biggest loss of firefighters since 9/11, Sunday's tragedy raised questions of whether the usual precautions would have made any difference in the face of triple-digit temperatures, erratic winds and dry conditions that caused the fire to explode. A team of forest managers and safety experts is investigating what went wrong and plan to release initial findings by the weekend.
Nearly 600 firefighters continue to fight the blaze, and it was 80 percent contained as of Thursday night. The fire has destroyed more than 100 homes and burned about 13 square miles. Yarnell remained evacuated, but authorities hope to allow residents back in by Saturday.
Operations section chief Carl Schwope said the morale of firefighters is going up as they move toward full containment. He said they want to put the fire out as a way to pay their respect to the fallen firefighters.
"I think we're getting to the point now where this fire's almost out, we'll all go home and it's a whole new reality," he said.
Across town from the July Fourth carnival, the wife of the Hotshots leader and founder spoke publically about her husband, Eric Marsh, for the first time since his death.
"Eric was 90 percent a Granite Mountain Hotshot, and the 10 percent was left for us," Amanda Marsh said.
Greg Fine, whose daughter Leah had been engaged to McKee, circled the memorial at the Hotshots headquarters, taking photos of the tributes to the man who was to be his son-in-law.
On his shirt, he wore a laminated photo of McKee with his daughter, who was grinning with short bleach blond hair. They had been engaged for 1 1/2 years. Fine said his daughter is avoiding the crowds. She and her father plan to spend the afternoon with McKee's family at home.
"We're going to probably laugh and cry and have something to eat, and then laugh and cry some more," he said. Then he said he was glad other residents were celebrating the Fourth.
"Life has to go on," he said.
Associated Press writers Amanda Lee Myers in Phoenix, Brian Skoloff in Yarnell, Felicia Fonseca in Prescott and Martin Di Caro in Washington contributed to this report.
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