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Procession brings home fallen US firefighters

July 7, 2013

PRESCOTT, Arizona (AP) — Firefighters made a 125-mile (200-kilometer) procession to bring the bodies of 19 elite colleagues who died in a wildfire a week ago to the Arizona mountain community where they lived. It was the deadliest such incident in almost two decades.

Since their fellow firefighters arrived at the scene where they were killed, the fallen firefighters have not been alone, a tradition among those in the profession in the U.S.

“Since they were discovered, they have never been out of the presence of a brother firefighter,” said Paul Bourgeois, a fire chief who is acting as a spokesman for the firefighters’ families. “From the time they were taken to the medical examiner in Phoenix, while they’re at the medical examiner’s office, when they are received in a funeral home — there will always be a brother firefighter on site with them until they are interred.

“That’s something people don’t realize. We never leave your side,” he said of the tradition. “It’s a comfort to the survivors, whether they’re families or fellow firefighters.”

The firefighters were killed a week ago in a wildfire sparked by lightning on June 28. The fire destroyed more than 100 homes and burned about 13 square miles (34 square kilometers).

The crew was fighting the blaze when erratic winds suddenly shifted the fire’s direction, causing it to hook around the firefighters and cut off access to a ranch that was to be their safety zone.

An investigation into the tragedy has found only that winds took the firefighters by surprise; more thorough findings will come much later.

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