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(PHOENIX) — Nineteen firefighters were killed on Sunday while battling a wildfire in central Arizona, northwest of Phoenix, that was sparked by a lightning strike.

It was the deadliest instance of fire crews dying in an Arizona wildfire.

Arizona State forestry officials said the men who died in the Yarnell Hill Fire near Prescott belonged to the Granite Mountain Hotshots team.  One member who was not with them is the sole survivor of the group.

According to Arizona State Forestry Division spokesman Mike Reichling, firefighters were found both inside and outside fire shelters that were deployed in order to wait for a blaze to blow over.

Tony Palermo, assistant public information officer for the firefighting effort, said the fire, which continued to rage on Monday morning, had destroyed half the homes in Yarnell.

President Obama, who is traveling in Africa, released a statement early Monday morning, calling the 19 firefighters “heroes” for putting “themselves in harm’s way to protect the lives and property of fellow citizens they would never meet.”

“This is as dark a day as I can remember,” Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer said in a statement.  “It may be days or longer before an investigation reveals how this tragedy occurred, but the essence we already know in our hearts: fighting fires is dangerous work.”

Brewer said she would travel to the area later on Monday.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


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