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Newswest 9 | Midland, Texas | newswest9.com

Midland Fire Official Speaks Out About Arizona Firefighter Tragedy

A devastating loss for the community of Prescott, AZ. 19 men from an elite group of firefighters died while battling a wildfire in Yarnell, AZ on Sunday.
By Geena Martinez
NewsWest 9

MIDLAND - A devastating loss for the community of Prescott, AZ. 19 men from an elite group of firefighters died while battling a wildfire in Yarnell, AZ on Sunday.

All of the men were part of the Granite Mountain Hot Shot Crew, an elite group of firefighters.

The tragedy is especially tough for those in the firefighting community. Midland's former fire marshal not only grew up in Prescott, he was also a firefighter there.

"It's just unimaginable," Meiner said. "It was heartbreaking last (Sunday) night, it still is. It's really hard to imagine we're in that business and train for safety all the time."

For former Midland Fire Marshal Jeff Meiner, the news hits too close to home. He was born and raised in Prescott and that's where he started his firefighting career.

"I'm not sure if I know any of the guys or not, I'm kind of waiting for the list of names to come out," Meiner said.

Meiner said he also fought fires in Yarnell before moving to Midland.

"It's a very rugged country, very thick brush and trees, very steep country, it's hard to get around in," Meiner said.

Arizona officials said that lightning started the blaze. The fallen firefighters were trying to clear a line of brush to keep the fire from moving. Meiner believes shifting winds may have caused the flames to spread out of control.

"A lot of the fire video you see, the fire is running downhill," he said. "That's unusual and that's probably what trapped them."

Officials said their bodies were found with their emergency tents deployed.

"It reflects the heat away from you and hopefully, if you're in your safe zone and there's no fuels around you, you just get in that and ride out the heat wave as it passes over you," Meiner said.

West Texas is no stranger to wildfires. Meiner now works for the Texas A&M Forest Service. He said what happened is the worst case scenario but it's the risk they take to keep communities safe.