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Cops to talk to sole survivor of US fire

04 July 2013, 12:41

Prescott — Hundreds of US firefighters fighting a wildfire that killed 19 elite colleagues in the worst such tragedy in almost two decades paused on Wednesday for a moment of silence as questions lingered over what had gone wrong.

Investigators will talk with the sole survivor who warned his fellow firefighters and friends when he saw the wildfire change direction on Sunday and head straight for them.

Nearly 600 firefighters are still battling the Arizona mountain blaze, which had burned about 35km². Hundreds of people were evacuated. The number of destroyed homes and structures stood at 129 in the latest count released on Wednesday by the Yavapai County Sheriff's Office.

The fire was 8% contained on Wednesday.

Brendan McDonough, aged 21 made it to safety while his colleagues were overtaken by the blaze.

Tougher safety standards

"He did exactly what he was supposed to," said Wade Ward, who implored the media to respect McDonough's privacy as he and the families mourn. "He's trying to deal with the same things that we're all trying to deal with, but you can understand how that's compounded being there on the scene."

McDonough grieved with families on Tuesday evening at a public memorial service attended by more than 3 000 people.

Safety standards for wildland firefighters were toughened nearly 20 years ago when 14 firefighters died in a similar situation on Colorado's Storm King Mountain.

Those changes included policies that say no firefighters should be deployed unless they have a safe place to retreat. They must also be continuously informed of changing weather and post lookouts.

Sunday's tragedy raised questions of whether the Hotshot crew should have been pulled out much earlier and whether all the usual precautions would have made any difference at all in the face of high temperatures, erratic winds and tinderbox conditions that caused the fire to explode.

- AP

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