Arizona Forestry Division belatedly releases key Yarnell Hill records

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The Arizona Forestry Division has released important documents describing actions of firefighters dispatched to the Yarnell Hill Fire that were not previously made available when the division released records late last year.

The “unit logs” provide new information concerning the actions of the fire crews including the crucial initial response period on June 28 and 29 when the small fire escaped from efforts to bring it under control.

The failure of the division to release the unit logs — which provide first hand descriptions of the fire and how crews responded — when other documentation was released raises questions of whether the division is improperly withholding public records.

The division is appealing a $559,000 fine imposed by the state Industrial Commission after its Arizona Department of Safety and Health found numerous workplace safety violations contributed to the deaths of 19 members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots when the fire blew up on June 30.

The state has also received notices of claims from at least 13 families of the deceased wild land firefighters seeking more than $237.5 million in damages.

InvestigativeMEDIA contacted the Forest Division and requested an explanation as to why the unit logs were not included when the division released information to the media in response to requests filed under the Arizona Public Records Law.

Carrie Dennett, a forestry division spokeswoman, stated in an email the unit logs were still being “processed for redaction” when the division received InvestigativeMEDIA’s public records request filed on Sept. 30, 2013.

Dennett also stated the “unit logs” were “not part of the official SAIT (Serious Accident Investigation Team) investigation.”

The unit logs appear to be fundamental descriptions that would have been essential to the SAIT investigation. The fact they were not included in the SAIT report further undermines the credibility of the SAIT investigation and its findings that no one was blame for the events that led to the firefighters’ deaths.

InvestigativeMEDIA’s records request was filed two days after the SAIT released its report to the families of the Granite Mountain Hotshots and the public on Sat., Sept. 28, during a press conference at Prescott High School.

Dennett stated the “unit logs” first became available for public distribution on Feb. 27.

“We are working through all of the public records requests to date and sending the unit logs to those who have asked for them,” she stated in a March 4 email to InvestigativeMEDIA.

In a March 4 email to the Forestry Division, InvestigativeMEDIA asked for a list of all records that the forestry division has not released in response to requests filed under the Arizona Public Records Law. InvestigativeMEDIA also requested that for any records withheld the forestry division state under which exemption of the public records law allows the withholding of information.

The Foresty Division has not responded to this request.

Elizabeth Nowicki, a New York professor, expert witness and consultant, provided the documents to InvestigativeMEDIA after they were released to her by the Forestry Division in late February. Nowicki obtained the records after filing a public records request.

© Copyright 2014 John Dougherty, All rights Reserved. Written For: Investigative MEDIA

Comments

  1. Robert the Second says

    Rocksteady,

    TTWARE posted that “This particualr firing was apparently a LAST DITCH effort by the structure protection crews to protect the homes before crews evacuated the site. This is a totally acceptable practice in that situation.”

    “It had absolutely nothing to due with Globe, the fire ‘getting away from them’, or anything else. It’s no different than a crew firing around themselves as a last-ditch effort. Both things have been done successfully, and certainly are appropriate as the ONLY way left to save, either, life or property.”

    He’s spot on here. Regarding firing out around the structures, we do this often as we’re leaving an area. We generally call it “ring firing” and it entails firing out around structures when you don’t have a lot of time and need to disengage and vacant the area. You come back later after the fire has passed through the area and basically ‘pick up the pieces.” It’s then that we extinguish fire on the sides of houses, rooves, porches, underneath eaves, wherever.

  2. Rocksteady says

    Some interesting tidbits…

    Darrell Willis – June 30th at 16:30, Finished firing to top of hill above Model Creek???

    First indication I have seen of any firing operations….

    Who was doing it?? Was this the alleged firing by the DOC crew? Where in teh big picture is Model Creek? Was this the firing that GMHS was doing to increase line, that kept getting retardant dumped on it?? (Don’t think so, as the times don’t mesh)….

    The thing that really irks me is that just about each and every unit log talks about extreme fire behaviour potential, 101 to 104 F, 10% rh, SW 10-20 mph winds, Shumantes statement “briefing heavily stressed extreme fire behaviour by Shumante, Hall, Kendall……”…. If it was so heavily stressed and everyone was aware of it, WHY DID THEY IGNORE IT WHEN IT WAAS STARTING TO HAPPEN?????

    One of the unit logs says there were 40 to 50 FT flame heights at 10:30 AM… DUH!!! An indication as to what is to come and maybe tehy should consult a plan B…

    • Rocksteady says

      I really wanna know more about the firing operations…

      Who was firing? Globe?

      When this tragedy first unfolded, some witnesses said it was a prescribed fire gone bad… Maybe the witnesses saw more than what we are being told…

      Why would you do a major firing ops when the forecast is scary, plus the wind shift/wind event was predicted? Sounds pretty ballsy…. Or incompetent….

      • The Truth Will Always Remain Elusive says

        This particualr firing was apparently a LAST DITCH effort by the structure protection crews to protect the homes before crews evacuated the site. This is a totally acceptable practice in that situation.

        It had absolutely nothing to due with Globe, the fire ‘getting away from them’, or anything else. It’s no different than a crew firing around themselves as a last-ditch effort. Both things have been done successfully, and certainly are appropriate as the ONLY way left to save, either, life or property.

        • Rocksteady says

          Where, in all of the files, etc do you find the details that it was a last ditch effort??

          I have not seen any documentation of the firing event. Care to post a link or point it out to me.

          • WantsToKnowTheTruth says

            Reply to Rocksteady on
            March 10, 2014 at 7:10

            If I recall correctly… Darrell Willis’ own
            explanation for why he dismissed the
            entire DOC crew on Sunday, just before
            the Double Bar A Ranch was evacuated,
            was because they did NOT have any
            experience ‘burning out’ around structures,
            which is what Willis had already decided
            was the only thing left to do to try and
            save that place.

            According to Willis’ own SAIT interview notes,
            Willis was relying on the crew of Engine 58
            from the Tonto National Forest to pull this off.

            From page 59 of the Yarnell Investigation
            Notes ( YIN ) document…

            Interview With Chief Darrell Willis
            July 6, 2013 – Yarnell, AZ – ICP
            Chief Willis’s Position:
            Structure Protection Group 2
            Area of Responsibility:
            Model Creek and Double Bar A Ranch

            Chief Willis was depending on Engine 58 from the Tonto NF to accomplish burnout operations on the north part of the fire.

            • Rocksteady says

              Thanks for the clarification. In my organization firing isddifferent than “burning offffromhousrs”.

              Terminology discrepancies cause confusion

  3. Tex and Joy says

    thank you dearly John and Elizabeth-
    this is the stuff we knew would eventually come out.
    Fantastic work Elizabeth and John.
    We appreciate this article.

  4. calvin says

    p23 Tyson Esquibel…..1632 St Group1 request (1) engine to Boulder Spgs.
    I am guessing this actually means Structure Group 1 request (1) engine to Boulder Springs (at 1632)
    p31 Dan Philbin….. 2050 (?) Took over Structure Group Z in Yarnell. (skip a sentence). Assisted with getting dozer untangled from powerline.

    Hmmmm

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