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Ninteen firefighters killed battling Arizona blaze

(Adds details on fire)

PHOENIX, June 30 (Reuters) A team of 19 firefighters were killed battling a fast moving wildfire that has forced the evacuation of two small towns in central Arizona on Sunday, fire officials said. Wildland Fire Aviation service said in a Facebook post.

“It has been confirmed that 19 wildland firefighters have lost their lives on the Yarnell Hill fire Arizona,” the po hermes st said, adding that the agency was asking “for prayers for the families and friends hermes of these brave men and women.”

Art Morrison of the Arizona State Forestry Commission told CNN the firefighters, members of an elite “hot shot” team, lost their lives Sunday afternoon when they were overtaken by swiftly moving flames.

“It was a hand crew, a hot shot crew. In normal circumstances, when you’re digging fire lines, you make sure you have a good escape route, and you have a safety zone set up. Evidently, their safety zone wasn’t big enough, and the fire just overtook them. By the time the other fi hermes refighters got in, they didn’t survive,” Morrison said.

The blaze has charred about 1,000 acres (405 hectares) of tinder dry chaparral and grasslands since erupting Friday. Heat wave conditions have plagued the Southwest, p hermes rompting the evacuation of scores of homes near Yarnell, fire officials said.

Local television news footage showed an unbroken line of flames stretching along a ridgeline, sending gray brown smoke billowing into the evening sky.

The two towns are home to roughly 1,000 people.

The Daily Courier Prescott newspaper said the dead were members of the Prescott Fire Department’s Granite Mountain Hotshots team. (Reporting by Tim Gaynor; Editing by Steve Gorman and Stacey Joyce)