“For them to have been run over like that tells me that something spectacular happened, something really unusual,” Moser, 37, said Tuesday.
The investigation into the events that killed more firefighters than any incident since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks has only just begun, and many fire professionals here are reluctant to speculate about what might have happened. But those who knew the Granite Mountain Hotshots, noting their superior physical conditioning and extensive training, and the ferocity of the blaze they were battling, said they believe the result may turn out to be, as some authorities have suggested, a sudden shift in the wind or something similar.
One of the few predictable things about wildfires, they said, is their unpredictability.
“The difference between a structure fire and wildland fire is that the wildland fire will come get you, as we found out in a terrible, terrible way the other day,” said Don Devendorf, another division chief with the Prescott Fire Department.
Only one Hotshot survived the blaze. Brendan McDonough, 21, escaped injury because he was serving as a lookout about a mile from where the rest of the crew was overrun, said Wade Ward, a spokesman for the Prescott Fire Department.
McDonough realized that a wind shift had made his position too dangerous and radioed that he was moving to safer ground, Ward said. His position was soon overrun by fire.
McDonough is “distraught,” “very emotional” and “confused” about why events unfolded as they did, Ward said.
Hundreds of firefighters from throughout the West continued Tuesday to battle the Yarnell fire, about 30 miles southwest of here, as the remaining 80 members of the Prescott Fire Department went about the awful business of preparing a memorial service for the dead and supporting their grieving families.
Aided by an increase in humidity, firefighters have made significant progress on the north and east sides of the Varnell blaze, Brad Pitassi, a spokesman for the Southwest Area Type 1 Incident Management Team, told reporters Tuesday afternoon.
By Tuesday evening, crews had contained 8 percent of the 8,400-acre fire, the Associated Press reported. It was the first time authorities had reported any containment of the flames.
“We’re not experiencing the fire activity we’ve seen in recent days,” Pitassi said.
Firefighters from around the area have streamed into town to take all of Prescott’s calls for the next few days, including auto accidents and emergency medical calls, Moser said, as the department’s members adjust to the staggering loss.