In our opinion: Tragedy in Arizona

Published: Wednesday, July 3 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

Unidentified members of the Granite Mountain Interagency Hotshot Crew from Prescott, Ariz., pose together in this undated photo provided by the City of Prescott. Some of the men in this photograph were among the 19 firefighters killed while battling an out-of-control wildfire near Yarnell, Ariz., on Sunday, June 30, 2013, according to Prescott Fire Chief Dan Fraijo. It was the nation's biggest loss of firefighters in a wildfire in 80 years. (AP Photo/City of Prescott)

, AP

The deaths of 19 firefighters in Arizona represent a dreadful loss for their families and colleagues, and for all of us who rely on public safety personnel to keep danger from our doors. Firefighting carries inherent risks, but that doesn't diminish the tragic dimensions of their demise.

They walked into harm's way and did not return. They will be deeply mourned, and their loss should serve as sober notice of the dangers that may arise at any moment during this scorching stretch of summer.

The members of the elite Granite Mountain Hotshots, based in Prescott, were killed fighting a 2,000-acre fire that has so far destroyed 200 buildings and rages on. The fire was lightning-caused, and the prospect of more fires throughout the desiccated West, including in Utah, remains uncomfortably high.

It is of critical importance that every appropriate measure be taken to mitigate the risk. July is traditionally the worst month for field fires, many of them man-caused. Cognizant of the hazards, officials have put in place several fire restrictions in Utah, and they should be strictly obeyed.

Among them are bans on the use of fireworks in vulnerable areas. Still, the sounds of fireworks can be heard late into the evening in areas where the restrictions are in effect. Those responsible may see it as an innocent transgression, but they underestimate how rapidly even a single spark can trigger a fire that can quickly move out of control.

The firefighters in Arizona were highly trained professionals who apparently did not bypass safety precautions. Yet they were trapped suddenly and fatally. Their experience underscores the level of danger everyone in this region of the nation potentially faces in this period of high temperature and low humidity.

Every community owes appreciation to the valiant men and women who enter the field of public safety. When lives are lost in the service of others, it is a source of bereavement for the public as a whole. Such sacrifices occur too frequently, but rarely does such tragedy claim so many in a single incident. Sorrow for those lost in Arizona should extend far beyond that state's borders.

The most poignant show of respect for the Granite Mountain Hotshots would be a solemn promise to avoid the kinds of reckless behavior that might lead others in their profession into similar peril.

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