The U.S. Forest Service has released to InvestigativeMEDIA the same set of Yarnell Hill Fire videos the Arizona Forestry Division posted on its website on Saturday, Nov. 8.
InvestigativeMEDIA filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the videos on Oct. 13. There is no indication that the Arizona Forestry Division filed a separate Freedom of Information Act request for the documents. The Forest Service has not provided an explanation of why the Forestry Division received the videos prior to InvestigativeMEDIA. The division states it received the videos on Nov. 7.
The 21 videos containing 43 minutes and one second of footage were embedded on a DVD-ROM disc that was sent by U.S. mail to InvestigativeMEDIA and received on Nov. 12.
“In response to your request, we conducted a search for responsive electronic and hard copy records, everywhere a reasonably knowledgeable professional could expect to find responsive records,” Tom Harbour, Forest Service Director of Fire and Aviation Management, wrote in an accompanying letter dated Nov. 7.
Harbour stated four of the videos were redacted under an exemption to the Freedom of Information Act.
One video was redacted three seconds to the blur the face of a private party, a second video was redacted in two places “to protect the discussion of a personal telephone number”, and two other videos were edited to remove images of bodies of the 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots who perished on June 30, 2013 in the Yarnell Hill Fire.
It is unknown why the videos were not made available to investigators in 2013. The Forestry Division released its Serious Accident Investigation Report in September 2013. The Arizona Department of Occupational Safety and Health released its investigation in December.
The Forest Service’s failure to provide the videos to investigators last year is particularly troubling because one of the 21 newly released videos was provided to the Arizona Forestry Division and included in its supplemental records released last December.
The Forestry Division identifies this video as exhibit “A-22 HelmetCamVideo“.
The video includes the audio of Granite Mountain’s desperate calls for help moments before flames engulfed the crew. This video was widely publicized in the media. The newly released videos include clips that were recorded immediately prior and after the HelmetCamVideo released last year.
Most of the videos were taken by a Prescott National Forest firefighter through a video camera that was attached to his helmet.
Three Prescott National Forest firefighters, including the individual with the helmet camera, joined two commanders of the Blue Ridge Hotshots in conducting a ground search for Granite Mountain. A Department of Public Safety helicopter dropped off a medic who discovered the bodies a few minutes before the ground crew reached the entrapment site about 600 yards west of the Boulder Springs Ranch in Yarnell.
Analysis of the newly released videos and accompanying audio is ongoing to determine whether any new information surfaces that can explain why the Granite Mountain Hotshots left a safe area in a burned over zone on the top of the Weaver Mountains west of Yarnell and descended into brushy box canyon sometime after 4 p.m. after the fire had reversed direction and was moving towards the town.© Copyright 2014 John Dougherty, All rights Reserved. Written For: Investigative MEDIA