PICTURES

Thousands pay final tribute to fallen Arizona firemen

People look at mementos at a memorial dedicated to the 19 firefighters killed in the nearby wildfire in Prescott, Arizona, on July 2, 2013. Thousands of mourners, including United States (US) Vice-President Joe Biden, paid tribute on Tuesday to
People look at mementos at a memorial dedicated to the 19 firefighters killed in the nearby wildfire in Prescott, Arizona, on July 2, 2013. Thousands of mourners, including United States (US) Vice-President Joe Biden, paid tribute on Tuesday to 19 Arizona firemen killed last week in a wildfire in a service marked by chiming bells, bagpipes and a prayer read by the crew's lone survivor. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
People salute as a bus full of family members leaves a memorial for the Prescott Fire Department's Granite Mountain Hotshots team in Prescott Valley, Arizona, on July 9, 2013.Thousands of mourners, including United States (US) Vice-President Joe Bide
People salute as a bus full of family members leaves a memorial for the Prescott Fire Department's Granite Mountain Hotshots team in Prescott Valley, Arizona, on July 9, 2013.Thousands of mourners, including United States (US) Vice-President Joe Biden, paid tribute on Tuesday to 19 Arizona firemen killed last week in a wildfire in a service marked by chiming bells, bagpipes and a prayer read by the crew's lone survivor. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
People watch a memorial service for the fallen members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots on a big screen outside the memorial arena, in Prescott Valley, Arizona, on July 9, 2013. Thousands of mourners, including United States (US) Vice-President Joe B
People watch a memorial service for the fallen members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots on a big screen outside the memorial arena, in Prescott Valley, Arizona, on July 9, 2013. Thousands of mourners, including United States (US) Vice-President Joe Biden, paid tribute on Tuesday to 19 Arizona firemen killed last week in a wildfire in a service marked by chiming bells, bagpipes and a prayer read by the crew's lone survivor. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
A woman hugs a boy during a memorial for the members of the Prescott Fire Department's Granite Mountain Hotshots in Prescott Valley, Arizona, on July 9, 2013. Thousands of mourners, including United States (US) Vice-President Joe Biden, paid tribute
A woman hugs a boy during a memorial for the members of the Prescott Fire Department's Granite Mountain Hotshots in Prescott Valley, Arizona, on July 9, 2013. Thousands of mourners, including United States (US) Vice-President Joe Biden, paid tribute on Tuesday to 19 Arizona firemen killed last week in a wildfire in a service marked by chiming bells, bagpipes and a prayer read by the crew's lone survivor. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
A jet fly over honours the 19 firefighters that were killed in a wildfire, outside Tim's Toyota Center in Prescott Valley, Arizona Tuesday July 9, 2013. Thousands of mourners, including United States (US) Vice-President Joe Biden, paid tribute on Tue
A jet fly over honours the 19 firefighters that were killed in a wildfire, outside Tim's Toyota Center in Prescott Valley, Arizona Tuesday July 9, 2013. Thousands of mourners, including United States (US) Vice-President Joe Biden, paid tribute on Tuesday to 19 Arizona firemen killed last week in a wildfire in a service marked by chiming bells, bagpipes and a prayer read by the crew's lone survivor. -- PHOTO: AFP
Bagpipers play at the end of the memorial service outside Tim's Toyota Center in Prescott Valley, Arizona, on July 9, 2013.Thousands of mourners, including United States (US) Vice-President Joe Biden, paid tribute on Tuesday to 19 Arizona firemen kil
Bagpipers play at the end of the memorial service outside Tim's Toyota Center in Prescott Valley, Arizona, on July 9, 2013.Thousands of mourners, including United States (US) Vice-President Joe Biden, paid tribute on Tuesday to 19 Arizona firemen killed last week in a wildfire in a service marked by chiming bells, bagpipes and a prayer read by the crew's lone survivor. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Drum Major Brian Brendel of the Prescott Memorial Pipe and Drums leads the massed band during a memorial service at Tim's Toyota Center in Prescott Valley, Arizona, on July 9, 2013, for the 19 Granite Mountain hotshot firefighters that were killed on
Drum Major Brian Brendel of the Prescott Memorial Pipe and Drums leads the massed band during a memorial service at Tim's Toyota Center in Prescott Valley, Arizona, on July 9, 2013, for the 19 Granite Mountain hotshot firefighters that were killed on June 30 while battling the Yarnell Hill Fire.Thousands of mourners, including United States (US) Vice-President Joe Biden, paid tribute on Tuesday to 19 Arizona firemen killed last week in a wildfire in a service marked by chiming bells, bagpipes and a prayer read by the crew's lone survivor. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Ceremonial firefighter boots and helmets are displayed during a memorial service at Tim's Toyota Center in Prescott Valley, Arizona, on July 9, 2013. Thousands of mourners, including United States (US) Vice-President Joe Biden, paid tribute on Tuesda
Ceremonial firefighter boots and helmets are displayed during a memorial service at Tim's Toyota Center in Prescott Valley, Arizona, on July 9, 2013. Thousands of mourners, including United States (US) Vice-President Joe Biden, paid tribute on Tuesday to 19 Arizona firemen killed last week in a wildfire in a service marked by chiming bells, bagpipes and a prayer read by the crew's lone survivor. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
A firefighter (right) holds his hat over his heart as he attends a memorial for the Prescott Fire Department's Granite Mountain Interagency Hot Shot Crew in Prescott Valley, Arizona, on July 9, 2013. Thousands of mourners, including United States (US
A firefighter (right) holds his hat over his heart as he attends a memorial for the Prescott Fire Department's Granite Mountain Interagency Hot Shot Crew in Prescott Valley, Arizona, on July 9, 2013. Thousands of mourners, including United States (US) Vice-President Joe Biden, paid tribute on Tuesday to 19 Arizona firemen killed last week in a wildfire in a service marked by chiming bells, bagpipes and a prayer read by the crew's lone survivor. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Ms Tamie Gonzalez (left), her daughter Asya Gonzalez, 16, and husband Julian Gonzalez (right) hold signs in support of the firefighters during a memorial service honour of the 19 firefighters that were killed in a wildfire at Tim's Toyota Center on J
Ms Tamie Gonzalez (left), her daughter Asya Gonzalez, 16, and husband Julian Gonzalez (right) hold signs in support of the firefighters during a memorial service honour of the 19 firefighters that were killed in a wildfire at Tim's Toyota Center on July 9, 2013 in Prescott Valley, Arizona. Thousands of mourners, including United States (US) Vice-President Joe Biden, paid tribute on Tuesday to 19 Arizona firemen killed last week in a wildfire in a service marked by chiming bells, bagpipes and a prayer read by the crew's lone survivor. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
A firefighter waits at the entrance of a memorial for the fallen members of Prescott Fire Department's Granite Mountain Hotshots team in Prescott Valley, Arizona, on July 9, 2013. Thousands of mourners, including United States (US) Vice-Presiden
A firefighter waits at the entrance of a memorial for the fallen members of Prescott Fire Department's Granite Mountain Hotshots team in Prescott Valley, Arizona, on July 9, 2013. Thousands of mourners, including United States (US) Vice-President Joe Biden, paid tribute on Tuesday to 19 Arizona firemen killed last week in a wildfire in a service marked by chiming bells, bagpipes and a prayer read by the crew's lone survivor. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
The crowd watches large TV screens as people sit outside a memorial for the fallen members of Prescott Fire Department's Granite Mountain Hotshots team in Prescott Valley, Arizona, on July 9, 2013. Thousands of mourners, including United States (US)
The crowd watches large TV screens as people sit outside a memorial for the fallen members of Prescott Fire Department's Granite Mountain Hotshots team in Prescott Valley, Arizona, on July 9, 2013. Thousands of mourners, including United States (US) Vice-President Joe Biden, paid tribute on Tuesday to 19 Arizona firemen killed last week in a wildfire in a service marked by chiming bells, bagpipes and a prayer read by the crew's lone survivor. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
A woman holds her hands to her face as she attends a memorial for the Prescott Fire Department's Granite Mountain Interagency Hot Shot Crew in Prescott Valley, Arizona, on July 9, 2013. Thousands of mourners, including United States (US) Vice-Preside
A woman holds her hands to her face as she attends a memorial for the Prescott Fire Department's Granite Mountain Interagency Hot Shot Crew in Prescott Valley, Arizona, on July 9, 2013. Thousands of mourners, including United States (US) Vice-President Joe Biden, paid tribute on Tuesday to 19 Arizona firemen killed last week in a wildfire in a service marked by chiming bells, bagpipes and a prayer read by the crew's lone survivor. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

PRESCOTT VALLEY, Arizona (REUTERS) - Thousands of mourners, including United States (US) Vice-President Joe Biden, paid tribute on Tuesday to 19 Arizona firemen killed last week in a wildfire in a service marked by chiming bells, bagpipes and a prayer read by the crew's lone survivor.

The June 30 deaths of all but one member of the 20-man Granite Mountain Hotshots, an elite firefighting squad from Prescott, Arizona, marked the greatest loss of life from a US wildfire in 80 years.

The tragedy also stands as the highest number of American firefighters killed in a single incident since the Sept 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center in New York.

In an emotional high point near the end of a 2 1/2-hour memorial service on Tuesday, the lone survivor of the highly trained Prescott crew, Mr Brendan McDonough, took the stage to a standing ovation and recited The Hotshots Prayer. The prayer concludes with the line: "For if this day on the line, I should answer death's call, Lord, bless my hot shot crew, my family one and all."

"Thank you, and I miss my brothers," he said afterward, his voice choking with emotion.

It was the first public appearance of the tall, slender Mr McDonough, who has kept a low profile and declined media interviews since he emerged unscathed from the fire in which his comrades perished.

The 19 men were overrun by flames fanned in their direction by gale-force winds as they battled a lightning-sparked blaze with hand tools outside the tiny hamlet of Yarnell, about 48km south-west of their central Arizona home base of Prescott.

Mr McDonough had been acting as team lookout that afternoon and was about 1.6km away from the rest of the crew at the time.

Family, friends and fellow firefighters from departments and other hotshot crews around the nation packed a 6,000-seat indoor arena for Tuesday's ceremony in the town of Prescott Valley.

Thousands more watched the service on large video screens set up for an overflow crowd outside the hall.

WELL-WORN GEAR

The service opened with a colour guard of firefighters in dress uniform filing into the auditorium in front of a stage lined with photos of the fallen crew members superimposed on American flags. Their well-worn gear, including boots, helmets and shovels, was also on display.

"Today we come together to honour and mourn 19 brave men. They were protectors," Governor Jan Brewer said. "They were 19 heroes, gone at the turn of the wind."

Taking the podium next, Mr Biden declared, "There's an old saying - all men were created equal, but then a few became firefighters. Thank God for you all."

Other dignitaries in attendance included US Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, Arizona's two US senators - Mr John McCain and Mr Jeff Flake - and several US Representatives from Arizona.

On two occasions, a silver ceremonial fire bell was chimed as the names of each of the fallen were called out - once as an honour guard presented family members with US and Arizona flags and a brass-plated Pulaski tool used by wildland firefighters, and again when gold medals of honour were awarded to the men posthumously.

The service concluded with four US Marine Corps fighter jets streaking overhead in formation, followed by a traditional drum and bagpipes corps playing Amazing Grace as they marched through the aisles of the arena.

The precise circumstances of the firefighters' deaths in Arizona remain under investigation. Authorities have said the 19 specially trained firefighters, most in their 20s, apparently became trapped in seconds as a burst of high winds from an approaching thunderstorm drove flames into their position.

The team quickly deployed cocoon-like personal protective shelters in a last-ditch effort to take cover, but some of the men never even made it into the foil-coated capsules.

The so-called Yarnell Hill fire, one of dozens of wildland blazes that have raged across western states this summer, charred 3,400ha after erupting on June 28.

Scores of homes were destroyed. As of Tuesday, crews had carved containment lines around 90 per cent of the fire's perimeter.