A combination of hot temperatures, dry conditions, and gusty winds have ushered in a potentially dangerous wildfire season this year across much of the Southwestern United States.
As a result, thousands of firefighters are placing their own lives at risk to protect people and property — and two recently paid the ultimate price when their reconnaissance airplane crashed in Arizona.
“Our hearts are heavy tonight”
According to the Washington Examiner, the crash occurred in Mohave County on Saturday as those aboard were observing a blaze dubbed the Cedar Basin Fire.
As explained in a statement by a National Transportation Safety Board spokesperson, that agency is taking the lead in investigating the deadly crash.
The Bureau of Land Management posted a tweet in response to the tragic news and offered condolences to those survived by the two aerial firefighters.
“Our hearts are heavy tonight with sincere condolences to families, loved ones and firefighters affected by this tragic aviation accident that occurred today in Arizona on the [Cedar Basin Fire],” the agency tweeted.
In its report, the Arizona Republic confirmed that the aircraft crashed around noon in an area northeast of Wikieup while conducting its recon mission and serving as a command and control center to help coordinate fire response efforts.
“Carrying out their mission”
BLM spokesperson Dolores Garcia said that the aircraft had been serving as “eyes in the sky” to keep watch on the fire while acting as a “director” for other aviation units and firefighters on the ground.
The fire is believed to have been sparked by a lightning strike on Friday evening and subsequently spread through rough terrain making it difficult for firefighters on the ground to adequately survey. As of Tuesday afternoon, it had consumed roughly 734 acres and was approximately 75% contained.
Republican Gov. Doug Ducey praised the two deceased firefighters — 62-year-old Jeff Piechura and 48-year-old Matthew Miller — in a tweet on Monday.
He wrote that the pair had been “carrying out their mission on the Cedar Basin Fire in service of the people of Arizona,” going on to call for flags across the state to be flown at half-mast in their honor.
“My deepest condolences go to the Piechura and Miller families, their loved ones, and colleagues,” Ducey added. “The memory of these brave, selfless firefighters will live on. Our prayers are with them and all of Arizona’s wildland firefighters serving in the face of danger to keep their fellow Arizonans safe.”