LITTLE TUJUNGA CANYON ( — The flag outside the U.S. Forest Service headquarters remained at half-staff to honor the 19 firefighters killed while battling an Arizona wildfire Sunday.

The 19 men were members of the Granite Mountain Hotshot Crew, an elite group of firefighters often assigned to the front lines.

“It’s because of the experience, the training and the physical fitness of the crews,” that they are known as elite, said Chief Oscar Vargas of the U.S. Forest Service.

Chief Vargas is also a member of the Little Tujunga Hotshot Crew, one of five crews assigned to the Angeles National Forest.

The extensive training such crews receive is key to saving lives and property.

Chief Vargas said the crews employ a combination of attacks designed to suppress the fire, including removing potential fuel in front of or around the fire and setting backfires to combat the flames.

Though Chief Vargas and his fellow crew members are not yet speaking out about the tragedy in Arizona, there is a brotherhood between those who perform the same job, and often work together.

“All crews tend to at one point or another work around each other,” said Chief Vargas. “It’s a tight-knit community spread out throughout the country, and there’s a lot of pride and hard work involved.”


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