East Texas firefighters mourn loss of 19 comrades in Ariz. wildfire

LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - The bodies of 19 firefighters killed by an Arizona wildfire have been retrieved from the mountain where they died. The tragic event happened in Yarnell, which is about 80 miles west of Phoenix. It's the same fire where at least one East Texas firefighter was working.

Fortunately the firefighter is safe. Normally, he's assigned to the Angelina National forest. The Angelina National Forest firefighter was actually assigned to a different part of the fire than where the fatalities occurred, according to U.S. Forest Service spokesperson.

Tonight, other East Texas firefighters are playing a significant role in protecting our nation's West. East Texas News tells us it's what builds the strong bond between wildfire firefighters.

The deaths of the Prescott 19, as these brave men are called on Facebook pages throughout the West, touch firefighters' feelings here in East Texas.

"I didn't sleep much last night. It's like any police officer or firefighter, it's like a band of brothers," said Jim Crooks, a safety officer with the U.S. Forest Service. "And even though I don't know these people personally we all share a common bond and it also hits you hard."

Crooks' job is protecting wildfire firefighters from the dangers of their jobs. Not as easy as it sounds.

"Firefighting is an inherently dangerous business," Crooks said.

So tragedy has to be used as a training opportunity.

"When we have a tragedy we have what we call a 'safety stand down,'" Crooks said. "Once we know some of the facts, and we probably won't know for a few days exactly what happened, we'll sit down and review all of our trainings, you know, what maybe we can do better to prevent a situation from happening again," Crooks said.

What a tragedy doesn't do is scare firefighters from helping. Right now in Southwest Colorado, 11 Texas Forest Service firefighters are on the largest wildfire in Colorado's history. Another is at a wildfire in Alaska.

"If you are going to be sent out of state on a fire, you have to have what's called a 'red card.' And that means you're trained really well in your position," said Jan Amen, a Texas A&M prevention specialist

"We've got a good number of folks that are primary firefighters and other folks that do it as what we call militia," Crooks said. "I'm a militia firefighter, so there is always a possibility of going out."

And when that call of duty presents itself there will be a harder focus on doing their job and doing it safely, with their role models in mind.

In the midst of wildfires out West, East Texans are reminded that the fire dangers here at home are increasing.

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