(Photo: REUTERS/Gene Blevins)
Members of the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team were sent out to Prescott, Ariz., to offer support to a community grieving after 19 firefighters lost their lives on Sunday in a scorching wildfire that continues to rage through the region.
"Our hearts go out to the families of those firefighters as well as the fire station," said Jack Munday, international director of the Billy Graham RRT. "Firefighters are like brothers."
Munday asked believers to send their prayers to the families in these communities, noting that they need the support and care of the body of Christ at a time like this.
Most of the firefighters who died were part of an elite "hotshot" crew who go on the frontline against wildfires with the mission to set up barriers to stop them from spreading.
"They're usually [a] 20-person crew, and they're the ones who actually go in and dig the fire line, cut the brush to make a fuel break. And so they would be as close to the fire as they felt they safely could," explained state forestry spokesman Art Morrison.
The spokesman noted that normally, the squad would have an escape route and a safety zone set up, but this time, the fire got so big that it overtook them.
Prescott Fire Chief Dan Fraijo told media in Arizona that they were in a crisis and that the firefighters who died were "some of the finest people you'll ever meet."
The Billy Graham RRT sends out relief groups, including chaplains, to disaster-hit areas across the country to offer physical and spiritual support to those affected by various types of natural disasters.
In May, a number of teams were sent to Texas and Oklahoma to help victims of numerous tornado outbreaks which left dozens dead and houses in ruins throughout the Midwest and Great Plains states.
As for the Prescott community, one of the chaplains the RRT is sending out is a retired police officer from Florida, while another is a longtime firefighter from Colorado who currently serves as a fire chaplain.
"The need for emotional and spiritual care is critical," Munday said, describing the ability to send out chaplains who have experience on the fire lines as an asset. "They need to talk. They don't want to put a burden on their family. It's easier for them to talk to someone who's a peer."
Hundreds of people attended a memorial service at Embry Riddle University in Prescott on Monday to honor the heroes. Arizona officials also expressed their grief and gratitude.
"This day will be eternally etched in Arizona's memory. It will forever ring as one of our state's darkest, most devastating days," said Gov. Jan Brewer in a statement Monday as she ordered all state flags to be flown at half-staff through Wednesday. "It will forever remind us of the constant peril our firefighters selflessly face protecting us. We can never repay these nineteen men and their families for their service and the ultimate sacrifice they made on our behalf. We can, however, offer them our deepest, eternal debt of gratitude."
Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) also commended the 19 men for having served as "living demonstrations of love and heroism."
"Jesus Himself said, 'Greater love hath no man than this: that a man lay down his life for his friends,'" he pointed out. "My thoughts and prayers are with the families of the firefighters killed yesterday, as well as with the 200-plus families who now find themselves without a home."
The crisis situation continues in Arizona as firefighters are still struggling to contain the wildfire, which was apparently started by a lightning strike on Friday in Yarnell, and has burned through 8,400 acres so far.
"They're still in the midst of all this chaos," said Jeff Naber, manager of chaplain development and ministry relations. "There are firefighters who are friends of the ones who were lost, who are probably on the front lines right now. So, we just need to be praying for God to be with them."