Loss of 19 firemen in Arizona prompts chaplains' deployment

YARNELL, Ariz. — After an out-of-control, lightning-induced fire in Yarnell, Ariz., killed 19 firefighters on Sunday, disaster relief chaplains are mobilizing to walk alongside grieving families to offer spiritual support.

The deaths represented the worst firefighting tragedy in Arizona's history, the Phoenix daily Arizona Republic reported.

As of Monday morning, Chaplain teams are already on the way to the disaster, said Larry Hyde, the disaster relief director for the Arizona Southern Baptist Convention.

"Our response to hurting families is to help hurting people," Hyde said. "We're just out there to support people's needs and share the love of Jesus at a time when their lives are falling apart."

Hyde is hopeful that the chaplains will have opportunities to minister to the firefighters' families through relationships already built with Arizona's fire services. Besides looking to meet any spiritual needs encountered by firefighters' families, Disaster Relief chaplains will be on hand to help churches dealing with the loss as well.

The firefighters were part of the elite Granite Mountain Hotshots of nearby Prescott, Ariz., and all but one of the firefighters were Prescott residents. They were responding to a fire that may have already destroyed half of Yarnell's 500 homes. One member of the team was in a separate location and survived the fire.

By late Sunday 250 firefighters were battling the fire; that number was expected to climb to 400 on Monday.

As many as two kitchen teams from the Arizona convention will be put on standby to provide food for fire survivors housed at shelters, Hyde said, and shower and ash-out teams will respond.

Fritz Wilson, executive director of SBDR, notes that all disaster relief responders grieve when news like this comes.

"In the back of our minds, we always know that first responders are willing to put their lives on the line, but when it actually happens, we're always caught off guard and saddened," Wilson said. "The whole response community hurts when this happens."