The Firefighters Who Run Toward the Flames

By Washington Post, Washington Post - July 2, 2013

AFTER SEPT. 11, 2001, Americans saluted the heroism of the first responders who died running up the twin towers’ staircases as office workers sought to escape. On Monday, the country once again had to mix admiration with grief as it mourned the deaths of 19 firefighters near Yarnell, Ariz., the greatest single loss to any fire department since 9/11. As residents ran from their burning homes, the firefighters ran toward the flames that would soon overtake them, trying to subdue the blazing chaparral.

This is monsoon season in Arizona, when local weather patterns can result in lightning strikes without accompanying rain. The phenomenon may well have conspired with unpredictable winds, arid conditions and extreme heat to ignite a blaze in the high desert that is still out of control. The 19 who died were elite firefighters trained to battle big blazes, so-called hotshots, from nearby Prescott. They may have been attempting to build a “firebreak” — a gap in combustible material that can slow or stop a wildfire’s advance. But a sudden shift in the wind, a quirk of the terrain or something else resulted in an inferno so intense that they could not escape, and emergency shelters saved none of them.

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