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Recordings show officials initially thought some firefighters killed in Arizona blaze made it out alive

Prescott Fire Department via AP

An aerial photo taken on July 4 shows the site where 19 firefighters were killed four days earlier. The line in the middle of the photo, built by a bulldozer after the deaths, allowed law enforcement and fellow firefighters to reach the site and remove their bodies from the mountain the day after they were killed. The Prescott Fire Department identified the site where the men died as the discolored patch of earth just beyond where the bulldozer line ends.

Arizona forest officials believed some of the firefighters who died last month fighting the mammoth Yarnell Hill fire might have survived, dispatch recording revealed Thursday.

Nineteen members of the Granite Mountain Interagency Hotshot crew died June 30 while fighting the wildfire, which burned almost 8,400 acres and destroyed more than 200 structures before it was declared fully contained Wednesday night.

The 73 seconds of audio — which the state Department of Public Safety released to The Arizona Republic of Phoenix — record communications among a dispatcher for the incident commander on the scene, the crew aboard a DPS support aircraft and a DPS operator.

Although a medical evacuation helicopter had already been deployed to the scene, the incident command dispatcher requested "additional helicopters on standby for medevac" in a recording shortly before 5 p.m. (7 p.m. ET), indicating he believed some of the firefighters might still be alive.

The second recording, from about an hour later, makes it clear that it had been confirmed that all 19 firefighters were dead:

Man on scene: I need you to contact, uh, (garbled) and advise him I have 19 confirmed fatalities. ...

Mike Blake / Reuters

Nineteen firefighters - all members of an elite response team - were killed battling a fast-moving wildfire in Arizona, marking the deadliest single incident for firefighters since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

Operator: 10-4. He wanted Air 4-1-0 to know that there are confirmed 19 fatalities.

Officials have said rescue teams couldn't be sent immediately because the fire was too close.

Listen to the recordings at The Arizona Republic

The fire sparked June 28 when lightning struck dry brush. Hundreds of people were evacuated to the neighboring towns of Wickenburg and Prescott and roads were shut as more than 700 firefighters battled to control it.

Individual funerals began Wednesday, and some firefighters' remains were returned to their families in California.

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