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Fires kill 19 Arizona firefighters

YARNELL, Ariz. – A raging wildfire has killed 19 people near Prescott .

All of the victims were members of the city’s fire department.

They were battling a blaze in nearby Yarnell.

At a somber late night news conference, Prescott Fire Chief Dan Fraijo talked about his fallen firefighters.

“We’re devastated; we just lost 19 of the finest people you’ll ever meet,” he said.

That crew was battling the Yarnell hill fire authorities said broke out Friday in the town of Yarnell, northwest of Phoenix.

They said they believe it was caused by a lightning strike.

The fire has since scorched more than 1,000 acres, burned more than 250 structures and forced hundreds of people to evacuate.

The firefighters who died were part of an elite unit called the Granite Mountain Hotshots.

“These are the guys that’ll go out there with 40-50 pounds of equipment and walk five miles. They’ll sleep out there as they try to develop fire lines and put protection between homes, natural resources, and still try to remain safe.”

There’s no word on exactly how the firefighters died, but authorities think the fire trapped the crew.

“If you get a real big wind event or something, all of a sudden the fire blows up  and you go to your safety zone and it’s not big enough and so that’s probably what happened with this poor crew,” he said.

Authorities said they hope to release more details later Monday.

The U.S. Fire Dept. said 43 firefighters have died so far this year, not including the 19 overnight.

All together that brings the total to 62 so far.