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Fire shelters fail to protect elite firecrew from Ariz. blaze

7:21 AM, Jul 2, 2013   |    comments
In this April 12, 2012, photo provided by the Cronkite News, Granite Mountain Hotshots crew member Shane Arollado trains with others on setting up emergency fire shelters outside of Prescott, Ariz. / CONNOR RADNOVICH/CRONKITE NEW/AP
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(CBSNews.com) - Along the 19 bodies of the elite crew of firefighting "hotshots" discovered late Sunday in Yarnell, Arizona, were 19 deployed fire shelters.

The hotshots often work grueling 14-hour days battling fires, carrying these last-resort fire shelters on their belts.

The fire shelters look like large sleeping bags or tents; a sort of aluminum blanket designed to protect from flames and heat.

"Firefighters are trained to get under these shelters within 30 seconds and sometimes wait for minutes, even hours, as the fire passes over them. That's where the danger lies," said CBS News correspondent Carter Evans.

The firefighters are trained when they're in the emergency fire shelters to breathe very closely to the ground, cupping their nose and mouth to stop hot gasses from entering their lungs, which can be the deadliest part of the fire.

The tragedy Sunday evening almost wiped out the 20-member Granite Mountain Hotshots, a unit based in the small town of Prescott, Prescott Fire Chief Dan Fraijo said. Only one member survived, and that was because he was moving the unit's truck at the time, authorities said.

It is the largest loss of firefighters in a wildfire in the U.S. in 80 years.

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