Biden pays tribute to dead Arizona firefighters

US Vice President Joe Biden on Tuesday eulogized 19 young men who died battling America's deadliest wildfire in 80 years.

Biden traveled to a memorial service in Prescott Valley, Arizona to honor the men of an elite "hotshot" crew, mostly in their 20s, who were killed on June 30.

Biden said the team was "an elite unit in every sense of that phrase."

He praised the dead men for running to help "innocents, caught in the path of the fires of hell, desperate to save their families."

"These men, Granite Mountain Hotshots, were part of a very small, unique band of firefighters," Biden said.

"You are a rare breed," Biden told firefighters in the audience.

"There is an old saying. All men are created equal, but then a few became firefighters."

The US vice president has an affinity for firefighters as his two young sons were rescued by crews in Delaware in a car crash in which his first wife and infant daughter were killed in 1972.

The Arizona blaze, fueled by high winds, was the most lethal to firefighters since the attacks on September 11, 2001 which claimed 340 of their number in the World Trade Center's Twin Towers in New York.

The Prescott team appeared to have deployed fire shelters -- last-ditch protection equipment --just before they were engulfed in flames.