Those who fight fires for a living say their hearts are with AZ

MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- 19 firefighters were killed Sunday night, June 30th while fighting the Yarnell Hill fire north of Phoenix in Arizona. They were part of an elite squad confronting wildfires on the front line, setting up barriers to stop the spreading destruction. But in their unpredictable world, it doesn't take much to turn a situation dangerously deadly.

In this case, a wind shift and other factors caused a central Arizona fire, which now spans almost 9,000 acres, to become erratic, said Mike Reichling, Arizona State Forestry Division spokesman.

The inferno proved too much, even for the shelters the 19 firefighters carried as a last-ditch survival tool.

The images from Arizona are horrifying and yet familiar for Trent Marty. Marty, the Wisconsin DNR's Director of Forest Protection was in the northwest corner of the state Monday as officials followed up on the Germann Road fire that tore through Bayfield and Douglas counties in May.

"My first thoughts go out to the firefighters and their families in this tragic event," Marty said.

Marty says what makes wildfires so dangerous is that crews have to keep track of so much more than the fire itself.

"A wildfire is running through a natural environment, influenced by local weather conditions, local terrain, fuels you encounter on the fire, so there's a lot more factors involved in a wildfire that have to be mitigated," Marty said.

North Shore Fire Chief Robert Whitaker doesn't deal with wildfires, but the news from Arizona still startled the man who fights fires for a living.

"To see that number of people get overrun by that amount of fire is, for me, unimaginable. Truthfully, at first, I thought that's gotta be a typo - 19? Someone had to misplace the number or something like that," Whitaker said.

Marty says in the coming months, investigators will debrief in Arizona, in much the same way as crews this week in northwest Wisconsin.

"Unfortunately, there will be lessons to be learned for the tragic community in this event also and the fire community will look to incorporate those lessons into our training to improve as we go forward," Marty said.

The wildfire, which is considered the deadliest in state history, is not contained at all, according to authorities. About 400 ground personnel and 100 incident-management staff are working to control it.