Medical Examiner: 19 Hotshots died of 'fire-related injuries'

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

PHOENIX -- The Maricopa County Medical Examiner's Office confirmed that all 19 of the firefighters killed battling the Yarnell Hill Fire Sunday died of "fire-related injuries," including burns abd breathing problems. The office classified each of the deaths as accidental.

"All examinations were performed by the Maricopa County Medical Examiner’s Office on Tuesday, July 2, 2013 and identifications were completed on July 3, 2013," reads a short report released late Thursday morning.

No other information was made available.

On Wednesday, hundreds of firefighters who are still battling the blaze outside the mountain town of Yarnell came off the line to salute a procession of fire vehicles that had been left by 19 elite Hotshot crew members killed in the line of duty.

The remains of the firefighters will be taken back to Prescott Sunday.

A memorial service for The Yarnell 19 has been set for Tuesday in the city of Prescott Valley at an arena that is home to a minor league hockey team. The arena can hold 6,000 people, and an overflow area may be set up outside.

"One of the things that defines the entire wildland firefighting community is we don't forget," said Jim Whittington, spokesman for the multiagency Southwest Incident Command Team. He also said that crews pay tribute every year to those who have died in the nation's worst firefighting disasters.

In the biggest loss of U.S. firefighters since 9/11, violent wind gusts on Sunday turned what was believed to be a manageable lightning-ignited forest fire in the town of Yarnell into a death trap that left no escape for the team of Hotshots, most of them in the prime of their lives.

An investigation is underway to determine what went wrong.

While the Yarnell Hill Fire continues to burn, crews have it 45 percent contained, and expect that number to rise relatively quickly in the coming days. Evacuees could be allowed back into the town of Yarnell as soon as this weekend.