Arizona Wildfire Tragedy Worst Since 9/11, Says Fire Protection Group
The National Fire Protection Association responded rapidly to the loss of 19 firefighters who died battling a wildfire in Yarnell, Arizona, on Sunday, providing data and resources to media covering the story.
As news outlets around the country were reporting on the tragic story of 19 Arizona firefighters who lost their lives battling a fast-moving wildfire over the weekend—the deadliest incident for firefighters since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001—nearly all of them turned to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) for data and resources on wildland fires.
“Serving as a national resource for anything related to fire, be it wildland or structure, we can anticipate getting a lot of questions and media calls when an event like this occurs,” said Dave Nuss, manager of the wildland fire operations division at NFPA. “We’re usually positioned through the season to be ready to respond when events do occur, and provide information that we have that’s related to that particular event.”
NFPA issued a brief statement on Monday to provide context for the Yarnell, Arizona, firefighter deaths, noting that the association’s 2012 Firefighter Fatality Report, released in June, showed that only 64 firefighters died while on duty last year—the fourth straight year in which the total fell below 100.
The Arizona death toll “is not a normal level of loss, and I think our report really shows that,” Nuss said. “You have to go back to 1910 and 1933 to find comparable levels of loss in wildfire fighting. This is something that we just typically don’t see in a fire season.”
Because the situation in Arizona is still unfolding—as of Monday afternoon authorities were reporting that the fire remained completely uncontained—NFPA took extra care in crafting a response, Nuss said.
“Obviously there’s a lot we don’t know—as a matter of fact there’s probably a whole lot more we don’t know than we do know about what actually occurred,” he said. “But, it’s a situation that we’ll continue to monitor and watch, because there may be some very valuable lessons that need to be learned that we can incorporate into our standards and messaging in the future.”
As it stands, the Yarnell tragedy will go down as the sixth deadliest incident involving firefighters in the U.S., and the third deadliest as a result of a wildfire.
A plume of smoke from the wildfire in Yarnell, Arizona which killed 19 firefighters on Sunday. (photo by National Wildfire Coordinating Group/U.S. government)