Forestry officials in Arizona say 19 firefighters have died while fighting a massive fire that has ripped through half of the town of Yarnell Hill, reports The Arizona Republic.
The newspaper reports:
" 'It's a dark day,' said Mike Reichling, Arizona State Forestry Division spokesman.
"Reichling said the 19 firefighters were found in an area that also had 19 fire shelters deployed. Some of those found were inside a shelter, which is typically used as a last resort to withstand the fire as it blows over. Some of the crew members were found outside the shelters.
"Officials said 18 of the deceased were members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots team. It's unknown what fire crew the 19th firefighter belonged to. The firefighters are part of a team that is typically sent in first to help cut off the fire, Reichling said.
" 'They were up there doing what they normally do,' he said."
More than 250 firefighters were fighting the wildfire, which also forced the closure of parts of state Route 89.
Forest officials said the cause of the fire was under investigation.
Updated at 2:30 a.m. ET, Monday, July 1:
President Obama, who is on a visit to Africa, called the 19 firefighters "heroes" in a statement issued by the White House early Monday morning.
More from the president's statement:
"In recent days, hundreds of firefighters have battled extremely dangerous blazes across Arizona and the Southwest. The federal government is already assisting, and we will remain in close contact with state and local officials to provide the support they need. But today, Michelle and I join all Americans in sending our thoughts and prayers to the families of these brave firefighters and all whose lives have been upended by this terrible tragedy."