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