Obama: Firefighters killed in Arizona wildfire are 'heroes'

US President Barack Obama said the 19 firefighters killed in the Arizona wildfire blaze were "heroes" who "selflessly put themselves in harm's way" to protect fellow citizens.

A wildfire is sweeping through Arizona. Credit: APTN

He said: "Yesterday, nineteen firefighters were killed in the line of duty while fighting a wildfire outside Yarnell, Arizona.

"They were heroes - highly-skilled professionals who, like so many across our country do every day, selflessly put themselves in harm's way to protect the lives and property of fellow citizens they would never meet.

"In recent days, hundreds of firefighters have battled extremely dangerous blazes across Arizona and the Southwest. The federal government is already assisting, and we will remain in close contact with state and local officials to provide the support they need.

"But today, Michelle and I join all Americans in sending our thoughts and prayers to the families of these brave firefighters and all whose lives have been upended by this terrible tragedy."

Video: High temperatures and strong winds whip up wildfire

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US wildfire '45% contained'

US fire officials have said that a deadly wildfire which claimed the lives of 19 firefighters is now 45 percent under control. The blaze in the state of Arizona has engulfed thousands of acres including large parts of the town of Yarnell.