Records: DPS paramedic reported firefighter deaths

July 11, 2013 - 8:35 PM
Western Wildfires

Yarnell Hill Fire Glen Ilah - Judy Aldridge, a resident of Glen Ilah, Arizona for 32- years, looks on in the debris of what was her home on Wednesday, July 10, 2013. Judy and her husband, Jack Aldridge are in the early stages of the clean up process after the Yarnell Hill Fire completely destroyed their home on June 30. (AP Photo/The Arizona Republic, David Wallace)

PHOENIX (AP) — An Arizona state helicopter paramedic was calm and straightforward as he radioed in the first confirmation that 19 firefighters were dead in a blaze northwest of Phoenix, recordings released Thursday show.

Paramedic Eric Tarr called Department of Public Safety dispatchers after his pilot dropped him off near the site near Yarnell where the Granite Mountain Hotshots had deployed fire shelters on June 30.

After hiking about 500 yards to the site, Tarr radioed his dispatcher and asked her to tell his pilot, "I have 19 confirmed fatalities."

The confirmation came less than two hours after the 19 men on the crew called in at 4:47 p.m. and said they were deploying their emergency fire shelters as the blaze roared toward them.

An Arizona Division of Forestry official asked DPS to send a third helicopter to the scene in case it was needed to evacuate injured firefighters, according to the recordings and a dispatch log. He also asked for hospitals to be notified. The records don't show if the third helicopter ever left from Flagstaff, but the DPS helicopter carrying the pilot and Tarr found the crew fairly quickly.

The DPS records were the first released to The Associated Press since the fire. The AP has requested documents from other agencies, including the Forestry Division, which replied that it was so busy with the fire it didn't have staff to devote to immediately producing the records.

The incident was the worst loss of firefighters in a U.S. wildfire since 1933.

Fire officials declared late Wednesday that the Yarnell Hill Fire —sparked by a lightning strike about 60 miles northwest of Phoenix on June 28 — was fully contained after burning about 13 square miles.

The Prescott-based Granite Mountain Hotshots were killed when a thunderstorm triggered a wind shift, sending the fire blowing back toward them.

The first funerals for the fallen firefighters began Wednesday, a day after thousands attended a memorial service for the men.

Estimates of how many structures were destroyed range from 114 to 129. Residents have been allowed to return, and a road through the area reopened on Wednesday.