Yarnell Hill Fire site reveals charred landscape, rough terrain

They call it "hallowed ground."

It's the place where 19 firefighters perished trying to protect the town of Yarnell from a raging blaze.

For the first time since the Yarnell Hill Fire, ABC15 Investigators were able to walk in the footsteps of those fallen heroes.

Our first look at the site where the firefighters were trapped reveals in graphic detail what they were up against. 

The men were about 500 yards from their safe zone and they found themselves surrounded on three sides by very rocky terrain with large boulders.

The crew was using chainsaws, hatchets and shovels in an effort to clear brush that would further fuel the fire.

They were aware of storms and erratic weather conditions , but it's unlikely they could have expected wind gusts of more than 50 mph.

It is believed they were moving to protect a nearby ranch when the direction of the wind and the fire changed.

They tried to retreat to a flat space which is where they deployed their shelters.

Standing on a ridge as if perched on the inside of a giant bowl filled with flammable material, the firefighters' position was overrun by a fire that traveled faster than any fire ever seen before in Arizona.

The Prescott Fire Department's Wildland Division Chief Darrell Willis, who helped found the Granite Mountain Hotshots, said, "They found themselves with fire in the front and fire in the back."

Arizona Division of Forestry spokesperson Jim Paxon described the conditions in the basin where the men died to the Associated Press as being, "like a blowtorch in a tunnel."

Willis said the men had, "no way to go through the fire or go back up the hill."

Visiting the place where his friends died still takes an emotional toll on Chief Willis.

He told us, "I'm still seeing through the smoke, I'm not seeing this clearly."

If you get to the site, the first thing you will see is a Granite Mountain Hotshots T-shirt pinned to a burned out cactus.

Fire officials want everyone who walks by to touch it in tribute to those fallen heroes.

A chain link fence surrounds the place where the men tried to deploy their shelters and now a flag flies nearby.

The people charged with investigating this fire will put out a report in a matter of weeks.

And what happened here will be lessons learned and events studied across the country for years to come.

But for many people, visiting the site where the Granite Mountain Hotshots died could become a pilgrimage. There is discussion underway about creating access to the area.

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