Questions remain three years after Yarnell Hill Fire disaster

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Hearses carrying the bodies of Granite Mountain Hotshots passes through Peeples Valley. Photo By John Dougherty

Hearses carrying the bodies of Granite Mountain Hotshots pass through Peeples Valley, AZ. Photo By John DoughertyNews Analysis

News Analysis

Jasper, Alberta—Three years ago today, at 4:42 p.m., 19 members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots were killed when a fast-moving wildfire entrapped them in a box canyon at the base of the Weaver Mountains west of Yarnell, AZ.

Since that day of wildland firefighting infamy, three books have been published that have yet to answer why the men were in a location they should never have been. And now, a major Hollywood movie is in production that will ultimately completely distort what happened on that tragic afternoon. (How could you, Jeff Bridges?)

More than 22,000 comments have been posted on this site, some of which have helped piece together much of what happened on the worst day of firefighting in the history of Interagency Hotshot Crews after two state-sponsored investigations failed to provide a clear explanation.

But the ultimate “Why”, remains sealed, locked in the code of silence that permeates the world of wildland firefighting where the fear of telling the truth falls a distant third to securing a high-dollar government pension and avoid being blacklisted.

[Read more…]

SW wildfire agencies issue updated structure protection rules

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The Southwest Coordinating Group this week released an updated guideline for fighting wildfires in the “Wildland Urban Interface” and for structural protection.

“SWCG’s first and foremost intent is to protect human life (i.e. keep our firefighters and the public safe),” states the June 17 memo sent to Southwest Agency Administrators, incident commanders and zone chairs.

“Secondly, once firefighter and public safety has been established, firefighting responders and resources will work aggressively to keep any wildfire away from structures and communities.

“All strategies and tactics will be based on this intent; fully understanding we will not be able to protect structures in every situation.

“Management of risk to responders, fire behavior, resource availability, and other critical factors will all dictate and/or contribute to the appropriate strategy/strategies implemented.”

The memo was sent to the Arizona State Forestry Division, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, New Mexico State Forestry Division, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Forest Service.

The memo concludes stating: “Wildland fire resources across the Southwest generally do not have the responsibility per policy as well as the the capability and training to perform structure fire suppression actions.”

Tucson Weekly publishes InvestigativeMEDIA story on Forest Service ignoring warnings about Granite Mountain’s history

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The Tucson Weekly has published in its print and online editions InvestigativeMEDIA’s May 18 story on how U.S. Forest Service investigators contracted by the state to conduct the Yarnell Hill Fire investigation ignored warnings about Granite Mountain Hotshot’s superintendent’s history of dangerous and bad decisions.

The story is posted here.

 

Forest Service ignored information from hotshot leaders about Granite Mountain’s history of bad decisions

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The first of 19 hearses carrying the bodies of the Granite Mountain Hotshots passes through Peeples Valley, AZ.

The first of 19 hearses carrying the bodies of the Granite Mountain Hotshots passes through Peeples Valley, AZ.

The Yarnell Hill fire investigation conducted by the U.S. Forest Service deliberately ignored information provided by a former hotshot superintendent that the leader of the Granite Mountain Hotshots had a documented history of making bad decisions in violation of basic wildfire safety rules, federal records and interviews reveal.

A second former hotshot superintendent also contacted the Forest Service investigation leader, Mike Dudley, and reported that his conversations with Yarnell Hill wildfire supervisors immediately after the fire pointed to human error by the crew’s leaders as the only plausible explanation for what happen.

The communications are among 2,400 pages of records obtained by InvestigativeMEDIA from a 2014 Freedom of Information Act request. The records were released earlier this year and are heavily redacted even though the investigation was completed in September 2013.

Granite Mountain Hotshot Superintendent Eric Marsh’s decision-making was called into question by men who had directly worked with Marsh, or were aware of his reputation with other hotshot superintendents, in the weeks following the June 30, 2013, tragedy when Marsh and 18 members of his crew were overrun by fire. [Read more…]