By John Dougherty
Yarnell, AZ — Prescott Wildland Division Chief Darrell Willis on Tuesday described what he believes happened on June 30 when the Granite Mountain Hotshot crew made a last ditch stand in a box canyon against a wind tunnel of fire.
He gave his version of the tragic events to “embedded” reporters, photographers and videographers who were allowed access to the site in an escorted tour led by the Arizona State Forestry Division. The event attracted the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and Outside Magazine.
Reporters were asked not to photograph a nearby ranch compound that has the closest undamaged structures to where the Granite Mountain Hotshots died of a combination of burns, smoke inhalation and carbon monoxide poisoning just 500 yards away.
American and Arizona flags flapped in the wind from a 20-foot flagpole that marks the firefighters’ shelter deployment site and is visible from State Route 89 cutting through the heart of this played out gold mining town. That’s how close the crew was to safety.
Willis, who helped establish the nation’s only municipal hotshot crew in 2008 with Eric Marsh, the 43-year-old crew superintendent who died in the fire, provided a 15-minute description of what he believed to be the team’s final moments. Willis was not at the location at the time of the burn-over, but said he was working with fire teams to the north.
(The video below is Part I of two videos of Willis’ comments. The second video where Willis’ responds to media questions is posted further down in the story.)