Forestry official admits making comments to InvestigativeMEDIA


Arizona Deputy State Forester Jerry Payne has confirmed that he made the comments attributed to him by InvestigativeMEDIA in a July 30 article in which Payne was quoted as saying the leader of the Granite Mountain Hotshot squads made mistakes in the moments leading up to his death and the deaths of 18 members of his crew.

Carrie Dennett, a forestry division spokeswoman, is quoted by Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services as saying Payne “did admit making the comments.”

In the story posted Wednesday, Fischer reports, “The dispute he (Payne) has with the (InvestigativeMEDIA) report, Dennett said, is that it did not make clear that this was just his personal opinion and not part of any official finding or statement.”

Capitol Media Services also reported that Gov. Jan Brewer said Wednesday that Payne expressed his own opinion about the deaths during the Yarnell Hill Fire. But she said any such conclusions were premature, as the investigation is ongoing.Payne’s confirmation that he made the statements attributed to him is a reversal from statements he and the forestry division made on Tuesday when they said InvestigativeMEDIA misquoted Payne.

Payne told The Arizona Republic that he was misquoted and misrepresented in the online article. He said the report’s author, John Dougherty, “went way, way outside of what I believe I told him. I did not say Marsh broke the rules.”

Forestry division spokesman Jim Paxon repeatedly told broadcast and print media that InvestigativeMEDIA misquoted Payne and fabricated the story.

Arizona Forestry Division spokesman Jim Paxon

Arizona Forestry Division spokesman Jim Paxon

Paxon assailed InvestigativeMEDIA’s report as a “lie” in an interview with the Arizona Republic that was later reprinted in USAToday.

“Jerry Payne says he did not utter any words that condemned or pointed a finger at Eric Marsh,” Paxon is quoted as saying in the Arizona Republic. “Mr. Dougherty took extreme liberties and drew his own conclusions. … This is a textbook example of yellow journalism.”

Paxon told KTVK-Channel 3 that InvestigativeMEDIA’s story was, “misquoted and erroneous.”

In response to the criticism from Payne and Paxon, InvestigativeMEDIA posted a statement Wednesday standing behind the story and reporting.

InvestigativeMEDIA interviewed Payne on the afternoon of July 29 at the state forestry division. The meeting was requested by Payne to go over forestry division records that had been requested by InvestigativeMEDIA under the state public records law. At no time did Payne request to “go off the record” in response to questions.

During the course of the interview, Payne confirmed that Granite Mountain Hotshot superintendent Eric Marsh was acting as a division supervisor on June 30 and had the authority to make independent tactical decisions on where and when to move the Granite Mountain crew.

Payne stated that wildfire safety protocols appear to have been violated when Marsh led his team out of a safety zone where the fire had already burned and down into a chaparral choked box canyon in an effort to reach the town of Yarnell. The men were trapped at the base of the canyon by the inferno.

© Copyright 2013 John Dougherty, All rights Reserved. Written For: Investigative MEDIA


  1. Robert says

    Thank you John Doughtery and thank you Jerry Payne for the courage to step out and speak up with what needs to be openly talked about. It’s about time we heard others speak about this clearly predictable and clearly preventable, tragic and regrettable event. I grieve daily for the families, friends, and loved ones of these men that died. Several of them were my friends and and they were all fellow firefighters.

    Please notice that the AZ State Forestry has never denied the veracity or accuracy of Mr. Payne’s statements, only that they were unauthorized.

    To listen only to the paid talking heads like Paxon and their “talking points” are the lies. Anytime and everytime an agency has “talking points” they are trying to hide something. Wake up people. This is still a free country and we still have freedom of the press and freedom of speech and freedom of association. Thank God the First Amendment is alive and well.

    • Elaine says

      We do have the right to have all parties make their comments (doesn’t mean we have to like it. like their mouths shut until the final reported is released. Talk about yellow journalism…diid anyone but me notice the DONATE sign that was posted at the bottom of this sight…so is this all about money or what!!!
      Why don’t you look for a real job and stop asking for donations. You make youself seem like less of jounalist for begging for for money.

      I ti on

      • Melody says

        Elaine – I noticed the same thing.

        It’s not about freedom of speech. It’s about money, and making a name for yourself no matter the cost. People were hurt, relationships were damaged and one hurt and very intellectual individual gave an immediate judgement, but he was still in shock and the journalist was irresponsible.

  2. Melody Dashora says

    I think for a journalist who keeps bringing this topic up during a grieving period for families and continues to harp on someone of who this tenure journalist obviously misled to create sensationalism is outright ridiculous. If you were a veteran journalist on an investigative cases you would probably note that an investigation would have to occur when any government, or public agency incurs a devastation like this. You have tried to turn a good man into a hated man, and you are wrong for this. That is why for every search of “findings” that you were right, were written by you. I saw the official statement from the Department of Forestry and it did not make mention that anyone admitted to exactly what you wrote and instead that an opinion was made by an official without an investigation leading to you writing something that would harbor anger. You should quit your day job and go sing karaoke as you could learn to repeat things correctly and use good moral judgment.

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