Phoenix, Arizona (Reuters) - An Arizona wildfire that left 19 firefighters dead as it swept over rugged mountainous terrain is slowly burning itself out, though hundreds of evacuated residents remain out of their homes and hot spots still exist, fire officials said on Thursday.
The fire is expected to continue to shrink over the July 4 holiday as more than 600 firefighters dig breaks to contain the 8,400-acre blaze.
The 19 men died on Sunday as they battled the fast-moving fire as it menaced a small town near Prescott, in central Arizona. The fire swept over them, forcing the men to scramble into individual emergency foil shelters - a last resort for wildland firefighters caught amid flames.
The Maricopa County Medical Examiner’s Office determined that all 19 died of accidental fire-related injuries. Fire-related injuries can involve burns or inhalation problems or both, said Maricopa County Communications Director Cari Gerchick.
“I can’t tell you who had what, who had one or the other or both. All of those details will be available when the autopsy reports are released in a few months,” Gerchick told Reuters.
No other information was available on Thursday about the deaths, she said.
The last known photo of the men, all members of the Prescott Fire Department’s Granite Mountain Hotshots, shows one man standing and two resting on boulders on a hillside overlooking the smoking inferno. Andrew Ashcraft, 29, who died in the fire, texted the picture to his wife shortly before the fire overtook the crew, according to a caption on the crew’s Facebook page.
As of Wednesday, The United Phoenix Fire Fighters Association, Club 100 of Arizona and the Wildland Firefighter Foundation had collectively raised $700,000 for the families of the victims, according to YarnellFallenFirefighters.com, a website launched this week to provide information about the tragedy.
Editing by Edith Honan; and Peter Galloway