Extreme heat has plagued the southwest for the last several days, which has led to a slew of intense wildfires, and in Arizona the fight against these intense blazes just took a turn for the worse. On Sunday night the Yarnell Hill Fire claimed the lives of 19 firefighters – most of whom were members of an elite force trained to repel the most serious wildfires, The Arizona Republic reports.

Fast-moving fire
The blaze was caused by a lightning strike, but it was exacerbated considerably due to high temperatures and dry winds. By Sunday afternoon, it had already burned an estimated 1,000 acres and forced the evacuation of hundreds of homes. Given the seriousness of the situation, the elite firefighting team, known as the Granite Mountain Hotshots, were deployed. According to the Chicago Tribune, the deceased firefighters were overtaken by flames and heat while they were in the process of deploying shelters designed to provide protection as the fire moved past them. 

Local community hit hard
With the deaths of 19, the blaze marks the largest loss of life for firefighters since the Sept. 11 attacks. According to figures from the National Fire Protection Association, the last wildfire to kill this many responders was in 1933 when a blaze in Los Angeles claimed the lives of 29 firefighters. Before that, a wildfire in Idaho killed 86 firefighters. Arizona Governor Jan Brewer said in a statement it may be a long time until the scope of the tragedy is fully realized.

"This is as dark a day as I can remember," she said. "It may be days or longer before an investigation reveals how this tragedy occurred, but the essence we already know in our hearts: Fighting fires is dangerous work."

Arizona is not alone
The Grand Canyon state is just one of many states throughout the southwestern U.S. battling significant wildfires this summer. To the north in Colorado, firefighters have been responding to significant flames for most of the last two weeks {fix}, according to The New York Times. The most serious ones have been located in Black Forest, where the fires claimed the lives of two people while destroying hundreds of homes. It is the most damaging wildfire in the history of the state.