Wildfire cut off Hotshots' access to safety zone

Published on NewsOK Modified: July 6, 2013 at 3:40 am •  Published: July 6, 2013
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Eric Lawton, a school board member in Yarnell, knows the area where the wildfire is and said its giant boulders, thick stands of scrub oak and manzanita would have posed high difficulty for the firefighters. The terrain would have impeded how fast they could move in the face of danger, he said.

"Knowing the area, you couldn't scramble out of there if you had to," Lawton said. "I don't care about special meterologist on site or any of that, they had no chance."

The lightning-caused wildfire was 90 percent contained Friday, after destroying more than 100 homes in Yarnell and burning about 13 square miles. Fire bosses have begun sending some crews home, and power and gas companies were working to restore service in Yarnell.

Residents of the evacuated community of Peeples Valley were allowed to return home Thursday, but about 700 people who live in Yarnell will have to endure more time out of their homes. Earlier in the week it was hoped they could go home by Saturday, but that's been pushed back perhaps as far as Monday evening.

The ruins of some homes continued to smolder Friday, and cracks inside the many large boulders around town can hold hot embers for days. Crews need to be sure the town has cooled completely to avoid new flare-ups, said Jim Whittington, information officer for the Southwest Incident Management Team. Power lines and burned poles need to be replaced, and power cut to destroyed homes. Hundreds of propane tanks also have to be either removed or tested for leaks and repaired if necessary.

Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake were planning to meet with Yarnell residents on Friday and speak to members of the media afterward.

A memorial service for the firefighters is set for Tuesday, with Vice President Joe Biden expected to attend.

Autopsies of the firefighters showed they all died of either burns or inhalation issues, or a combination of both. Their bodies, in Phoenix for autopsies, are set to be returned home to Prescott on Sunday in a 75-mile procession. Each firefighter will be in a hearse, accompanied by motorcycle escorts, honor guard members and American flags.

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Myers reported from Prescott, Christie reported from Phoenix. Associated Press writers Paul Davenport in Phoenix, Allen Breed in Prescott, Felicia Fonseca in Flagstaff and Martin Di Caro in Washington contributed to this report.