Two Hemet natives among 19 firemen killed battling Arizona blaze

HEMET, Calif. - Two of the 19 firefighters killed when a wall of flame overwhelmed them as they battled a wildfire in southern Arizona were Hemet natives, relatives and friends confirmed today.

Chris MacKenzie and Billy Warneke, both in their 20s, died Sunday near Yarnell, Ariz., while deployed with fellow firefighters from the Granite Mountain hotshots.

The crew was among 400 firefighters attempting to get containment lines around a brush fire, now at 8,000 acres, ignited at a business just off state Route 89, a highway that leads north into the mile-high city of Prescott, where the hotshots were based.

MacKenzie and Warneke were both Hemet High School graduates -- MacKenzie in 2001, Warneke in 2005.

According to authorities, the hotshots' bodies were found on a hillside by an Arizona Department of Public Safety helicopter crew. Some of the firefighters had taken cover in protective tents they apparently deployed in a last-ditch effort to escape a tide of flames.

There are around 100 hotshot crews based throughout the United States. The crews are considered elite for their skills and ability to work fires under the most rugged and hazardous conditions.

Sunday's loss is believed to be the worst wildland firefighting tragedy since the 1933 Griffith Park Fire in Los Angeles, during which 29 firemen were killed.

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