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Yarnell’s Catholic community, shrine in limbo as fire rages

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A photo of Wade Parker, one of 19 elite firefighters who died battling an Arizona wildfire, is set among flowers at a makeshift memorial in Prescott July 1. The tragedy marked the greatest loss of life among firefighters in a U.S. wild-land blaze in 80 years. (CNS photo/Joshua Lott, Reuters) (July 1, 2013)

A photo of Wade Parker, one of 19 elite firefighters who died battling an Arizona wildfire, is set among flowers at a makeshift memorial in Prescott July 1. The tragedy marked the greatest loss of life among firefighters in a U.S. wild-land blaze in 80 years. (CNS photo/Joshua Lott, Reuters) (July 1, 2013)

As far as Fr. Raul Lopez can tell, the Yarnell Hill fire lines have not reached St. Mary Mediatrix Mission. Yet. The state of the Shrine of St. Joseph is unknown.

The mission is located along Highway 89 just before entering the town’s main commerce area. Although some maps show fire activity around Yarnell, the parochial vicar believes most of the affected area is west of the quasi parish.

Still, he imagines parishioners being “very anxious at this moment.” Fr. Lopez noted the 250 structures that remain threatened.

“Pray for my community,” Fr. Lopez told The Catholic Sun.

The Shrine of St. Joseph, which sees visitors come and go all the time, is a mile-and-a-half away, west of the town. Evacuations went into effect at 4 p.m. yesterday. Shrine officials expect to know something about its future in the coming week.

The highway leading to both places remains closed.

Fr. Lopez was emotional about the 19 firefighters who were killed while battling the blaze.

“That is the worst. The [loss of] life,” he said.

According to the National Fire Protection Association records, it is the deadliest incident for firefighters since 9/11 and the third highest firefighter death toll for woodland fires. Another 400 firefighters are still battling the lightning-sparked Yarnell Hill blaze, which has consumed some 8,000 acres.

Last year’s 64 firefighter on-duty deaths nationwide was the second lowest in 35 years.

FIRE FACTS*

Fire Start Date:  June 28, 2013 at 5:30 p.m.

Location:  West of State 89 between Yarnell and Peeples Valley

Size:  Estimated at 8,400 acres

Percent Contained:  0 percent containment

Cause:  Lightning

Injuries to Date:  Late Sunday afternoon, after strong winds pushed the fire to their position, a fire crew had to deploy their fire shelters and 19 firefighters died in the line of duty.

Meetings:  There will be community meetings in both Wickenburg and Prescott today.  The Wickenburg Community Meeting will be held at the Wickenburg High School at 11:00 a.m. today, and the Prescott Community Meeting will be held at the Prescott High School at 3:30 p.m.  There will be media briefings at the south road block on State 89 at
8:30 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. today and at the north roadblock at 10:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. today.

Evacuations:  Residents of Peeples Valley and Yarnell, evacuated by the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office on Sunday, remain out of their homes today.  The Yarnell Fire Department and Yavapai County are assessing homes and structures lost and saved in and around Yarnell.  Red Cross shelters are open at Yavapai Community College in Prescott at 928-717-8210 and at the Wickenburg High School in Wickenburg at 928-446-1766.  People and small animals are welcome at both shelters.

Number of Resources:  The Southwest Area Type 1 Incident Management Team with Clay Templin as Incident Commander, assumed responsibility for the fire at 6:00 p.m. yesterday.  There are about 500 personnel assigned to the fire.  Air tankers and helicopters are available to support firefighters.

Fire Conditions and Weather:  Temperatures will be in the low 90s today, humidity 15 to 18 percent and predicted winds out of the west/southwest at 10 to 15 miles per hour, gusting up to 20 miles per hour.   If afternoon thunderstorms develop in the area of the fire, winds could increase up to 50 miles per hour and more erratic fire behavior would likely occur.

Fire Closure Update:  State Highway 89 remains closed between Date Creek Road south of Yarnell and at mile marker 283 north of Peeples Valley.  The Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office has three different road blocks at the following: the junctions of Highway 89 and Hays Ranch Road; Hays Ranch Road and Sickles Ranch Road; and at Buckhorn and Frontier Road.

Today’s Activities:  Firefighters will continue to secure the northeastern flank of the fire and protect other homes at risk in evacuated areas.  Air tankers and helicopters are available to drop fire retardant and water on hot spots in support of firefighters.

*Source: Yarnell Hill Fire Update

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