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Updated Jul 11, 2013 - 5:42 pm

Yarnell residents return to burned homes as funerals begin

PHOENIX — A mountain highway reopened Wednesday through the area where 19
firefighters died protecting a former gold-rush town, while fire crews stopped
the progress of another blaze burning in eastern Arizona.

That lightning-sparked fire south of Kearny ignited Monday and grew to about
518 acres by Wednesday when officials announced most evacuations had been lifted
and containment reached 50 percent.

One home burned on the outskirts of Kearny, and firefighters said they had
stopped the blaze’s progression.

“There will still be some smoke out there, just some interior pockets of fuel
burning, but everything looks good,” said Carrie Dennett of the Arizona State
Forestry Division.

Meanwhile, the Yarnell Hill Fire, where 19 members of the Prescott-based
Granite Mountain Hotshots died, remained at 90 percent containment after burning
about 13 square miles. Estimates of how many structures were destroyed ranged
from 114 to 129, but officials couldn’t immediately provide an exact figure.
Residents were allowed back in this week, and the road through the area reopened
to the public on Wednesday. Fire officials were hoping to achieve full
containment by Friday.

Jerry Florman, 63, and her husband, Kurt, 72, headed back to see what remained
of their Yarnell home on Monday after being evacuated nearly a week earlier.

As the couple turned the corner onto their street, the reality of the
devastation hit, Jerry Florman wrote in a column for The Arizona Republic.

“Half of the homes on our street are gone,” she wrote.

“The fire burned through our acreage thoroughly, leaving behind a moonscape,”
Florman added. “The house itself is a large pile of rubble … Very few things
will be recovered from this devastation.”

The first funerals for the fallen firefighters began Wednesday, a day after
thousands attended a memorial service for the men at a minor league hockey arena
in nearby Prescott Valley.

The event also was attended by Vice President Joe Biden, Arizona Gov. Jan
Brewer, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, U.S. Sen. John McCain and
other members of the state’s congressional delegation.

Officials also announced Wednesday the establishment of the Granite Mountain
Hotshots Memorial Overlook along Highway 89, at a point where a flagpole erected
at the site where the men died can be seen in the distance.

The elite crew died June 30 when a wind-fueled, out-of-control fire overran
them as they tried to protect Yarnell from the blaze. Only one member of the
team who was serving as a lookout survived.

“In a fierce and terrifying encounter with extreme danger, they stood their
ground, like the heroes they were, and fought for their community,” McCain said
on the U.S. Senate floor Wednesday. “While they did not come home to the people
who loved them so much and who will miss them always, I firmly believe we will
see them again in the better world that is to come. “

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