Granite Mountain Hotshots Were Asked if they Could Protect Yarnell


By John Dougherty

Published Wed., Dec. 11 2013 at 11:38 AM in Phoenix New Times

Illustration by Pat Kinsella

A state fire supervisor asked the Granite Mountain Hotshots whether they could assist in Yarnell minutes before the 19-member crew left a burned-over safety zone along a mountain ridge and began its descent into a chaparral-choked box canyon where the men died in a firestorm.

See Also: Complete coverage of the Yarnell Hill Fire here.

The request, which was not disclosed in the Serious Accident Investigation Report commissioned by the Arizona Forestry Division (released in late September), provides important new insight into why the Granite Mountain crew decided to abandon their safe position as a powerful thunderstorm rapidly approached the wildfire raging below.


Hikers took this photo of the Granite Mountain Hotshots marching up a trail. The hotshots died later that day.
Courtesy of Joy Collura
A July 19 memorial service for the Granite Mountain Hotshots.
Photo courtesy of AZFS

According to a detailed report released December 4 by the Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health on the state’s management of the Yarnell Hill Fire, Forestry Division Planning Operations Section Chief Paul Musser asked a Granite Mountain Hotshot leader, about 4 p.m. on June 30, “if [he] could spare resources to assist in Yarnell.”

Residents of the community were under a mandatory evacuation order at that time.
Musser, according to the ADOSH report, was uncertain whether he was talking to Granite Mountain Supervisor Eric Marsh or to crew Captain Jesse Steed.

It appears that Granite Mountain initially refused the request.

“Either Marsh or … Steed responded that they were committed to the black (safe zone) and that Musser should contact” the Blue Ridge Hotshots who already were working on the valley floor near Yarnell, the ADOSH report says.

But moments later, at 4:01 p.m., Granite Mountain crew member Chris MacKenzie captured a fragment of a crucial radio conversation between Marsh and Steed. The 18-second video appears to have been edited into two parts. MacKenzie soon died along with the other 18 crew members, but his video camera was recovered.

In the video, Marsh’s voice can be heard coming from a radio held by Steed. “I was just saying, I knew this was coming when I called you and asked what your comfort level was,” Marsh said in the first short video. “I could just feel it, you know.”

The video fades and then picks up with Steed stating, “The fire had almost made it to the two-track road” on which they had hiked in that morning.

Following this conversation, the ADOSH report states, Granite Mountain and Marsh “decided to move their position.”

Musser and Field Operations Section Chief Todd Abel, who had direct command over Granite Mountain during the Yarnell Hill Fire, “reportedly were not aware” of the route Marsh and Granite Mountain would take, the ADOSH report states.

It is unclear why Musser made a request for Granite Mountain to move when the crew was under Abel’s direct supervision. “It’s kind of odd that they both seemed to be” communicating with Granite Mountain in a relatively brief time frame, says a senior firefighter involved in the Yarnell Hill Fire.

A few minutes before Musser’s request, at 3:45 p.m., Abel and Marsh had a radio conversation and discussed the approaching thunderstorm and their concerns about its possible effect on the fire, the ADOSH report says. At that time, Marsh did not suggest that the crew planned to move.

“Marsh reportedly stated that Granite Mountain was safe and in the black,” the ADOSH report states.

But a few minutes later, after Musser’s call to the crew, the Granite Mountain Hotshots were on the move. Marsh then had a brief conversation with an airborne fire manager.
The communication was included in an earlier investigative report commissioned by the Forestry Division and released in September.

Marsh, according to the Serious Accident Investigation Report, said, “We’re going down our escape route to our safety zone.” The airborne supervisor then asked, “Is everything okay?” to which Marsh replied, “Yes, we’re just moving.”

Marsh, according to the recently released ADOSH report, provided additional details about the crew’s movement when he told Blue Ridge Superintendent Brian Frisby via radio that Granite Mountain members were “picking our way through the black” in the direction of a road “in the bottom out towards the ranch.”

The place to which Marsh referred apparently was the Boulder Springs Ranch about 600 yards east of where the Granite Mountain crew wound up deploying their fire shelters.
Frisby, however, understood Marsh to be saying the crew was moving along a different road where Marsh and Frisby had met earlier in the day and toward a different ranch, the ADOSH report states.

The radio conversation between Frisby and Marsh now looms as a crucial moment in the events leading up to the catastrophic burn-over. Frisby’s account of his communication with Marsh was included in written documentation that Blue Ridge turned over to ADOSH investigators.

But ADOSH’s attempt to interview Frisby directly was blocked repeatedly by the U.S. Forest Service. The Blue Ridge Hotshots are assigned to the Coconino National Forest and based in the small Mogollon Rim community of Happy Jack.

“It should be noted that the United States Department of Agriculture-Forest Service denied ADOSH’s requests to interview” the Blue Ridge Hotshots, the report mentions.
The mysterious 18-second video reportedly was made available to Forestry’s Serious Accident Investigation Team in July, but it was not included in the team’s investigation report publicly released on September 28. The Prescott Courier, however, posted the video on its website the same morning that the report was released.

In an accompanying story, the Courier reported that MacKenzie’s father provided a copy to Prescott Wildland Division Chief Darrell Willis. The Granite Mountain Hotshots were part of the city’s Wildland Division. Willis turned over the video to the Serious Accident Investigation Team, Prescott spokesman Pete Wertheim says.

It is unknown why the video and Musser’s communication with Granite Mountain leadership were not included in the Forestry Division-sponsored report. Jim Karels, the Florida State Forester who headed the team that wrote the report, did not respond to requests for an interview.

The Forestry Division did not respond to New Times’ request for comment about Musser’s conversation with Granite Mountain leadership.


The ADOSH report cited a number of crucial mistakes by the Arizona Forestry Division that first were uncovered by New Times in articles published in August and October (“Yarnell Hill Fire: Investigating the Deaths of 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots,” Special Reports,, including:

• State Forestry failed to have a required safety officer present at the fire who could have closely monitored Granite Mountain’s movements and interceded to prevent the crew from moving into a dangerous area.

• The state did not prepare required fire-analysis reports crucial to proper fire-control management. The failure prevented fire managers from “proactively” battling the blaze and instead forced them to continually react to events as they unfolded.

• Forestry’s emphasis on protecting structures ahead of firefighter safety led to the deployment of firefighters into dangerous situations to attempt to protect property that was “indefensible.”

• The Division did not adequately consider that the Granite Mountain crew could have been fatigued from working 28 days in June, including 26 days fighting fires, and had just come off a 16-hour shift the day before. (June 30, when the crew was incinerated, was its regularly scheduled day off.) Consequently, fatigue may have been a factor in the hotshots’ decision to move out of the safe zone as the wildfire intensified and a thunderstorm rapidly approached.

On December 4, the state Industrial Commission approved ADOSH’s recommendation to issue three workplace citations against the Forestry Division and fine it $559,000. The fines include a $25,000 payment to the survivors of each Granite Mountain hotshot. Forestry has until December 26 to appeal the citations.

The ADOSH report also reveals new, important facts ignored or hidden by investigators who produced the Serious Accident Investigation Report released three months ago. This failure to disclose crucial information — including Musser’s conversation with Granite Mountain leaders and the 18-second video — has undermined the state Forestry Division-commissioned report’s credibility, according to expert sources interviewed by New Times.

“I don’t think anybody should be trusting that first report anymore,” comments retired wildfire death investigator Ted Putnam, who long has questioned wildfire-investigation reports sponsored by involved agencies. “My real concern after having watched this over the years is that the coverups are getting worse.”

The ADOSH report, sources say, raises the specter of an ongoing coverup because of the U.S. Forest Service’s refusal to allow Blue Ridge Hotshots to be interviewed.

“Until this week, I have never heard of the USFS refusing to allow [its] firefighters to provide information about a fire, fatality, or otherwise,” says Bill Gabbert, a retired wild-lands firefighter who publishes the online publication Wildfire Today. “I assume they did it to protect [their agency] from possible criminal charges or civil suits.”

The ADOSH report discloses for the first time that Granite Mountain’s sole survivor, who acted as a lookout, also faced possible death and serious injury. Prescott Fire Department officials and the Forestry Division-commissioned report maintained that Brendan McDonough was not in immediate danger even though the fire overran his lookout position within minutes of his abandoning the post.

In addition to the Granite Mountain Hotshots, the ADOSH reports states, another 61 firefighters also faced serious injury or death. Those threats occurred while they fought the fire as it approached Peeples Valley at midday and later during a last-minute evacuation from Yarnell and Glen Ilah as powerful downdrafts from a collapsing thunderstorm created a conflagration that shot smoke and embers more than 37,000 feet into the air.

“It’s amazing that they didn’t lose a lot more firefighters,” says Gary Olson, a retired hotshot superintendent and former criminal investigator for the federal Bureau of Land Management. “In my 10 years on the fire line, at no time did I ever experience anything that came close to the scenario . . . described in the ADOSH report.”


A cloud rises over Yarnell onJune 30, shortly after the hotshots radioed that the crew was deploying emergency shelters.
Photo courtesy of AZFS

The Yarnell Hill Fire was dangerously out of control and threatening the lives of other firefighters nearly four hours before the Granite Mountain Hotshots became trapped at the base of a box canyon at 4:42 p.m. on June 30.

Three miles from where the Granite Mountain crew perished, 31 firefighters were assigned to protect a ranch near Peeples Valley. The situation there quickly spiraled out of control — demonstrating that the Granite Mountain burn-over was far from an isolated event but instead was the dreadful conclusion of a chaotic day during which scores of firefighters narrowly escaped serious injury or death.

By 10:30 a.m. on the morning of June 30, the wildfire’s 1 1/2-mile-wide leading front surged northward toward Peeples Valley, where firefighters under the command of Wildland Division Chief Willis were attempting to protect a handful of structures.

According to the ADOSH report, Willis quickly determined that seven buildings at the Double Bar-A Ranch were all high risk — that there was a low probability they could be saved.

Nevertheless, 31 firefighters under Willis’ command continued efforts to protect the ranch after receiving a noon warning from an airborne fire manager that the rapidly advancing inferno threatened to cut off their only escape route.

Between 12:30 and 1 p.m., two converted DC-10 planes dropped two lines of fire retardant in a last-ditch effort to slow the northward march of the blaze. Willis saw the fire slow down slightly only to quickly intensify and burn through the retardant line and continue toward the ranch compound, according to the ADOSH report.

Despite the fire’s increasing threat, there still was no order for the firefighters to retreat. About 1 p.m., most of the firemen under Willis’ command at the Double Bar-A Ranch made a stunning decision.

A 20-member hand crew of inmates from the Yuma state prison “packed-up and left” the fire ground, the ADOSH report says. Willis did not disclose in his “Unit Log” operational report for June 29 and 30, filed with Prescott Fire Department, that the prison crew left the fire.

He eventually ordered the remaining 11 firefighters to retreat about 2:30 p.m. The ranch buildings subsequently burned to the ground.

ADOSH determined that not only were the firefighters facing the possibility of serious injury or death, a tennis court designated as their safety zone “was known to be too small for the approaching 40-foot-long flames.”

That Willis or state fire managers designated a tennis court as a safety zone for 31 firefighters facing such a serious threat outraged retired wildfire fatality investigator Dick Mangan, who now runs a wildfire private-consulting business in Missoula, Montana.

Mangan was a lead investigator on the 1994 South Canyon fire where 14 firefighters died.
“That’s totally stupid to say a tennis court is going to be a safety zone,” he says. “That’s idiocy of the first order.”

Willis did not answer questions concerning the prison crew’s decision to abandon its post and on the lack of an adequate safety zone. The queries were e-mailed to him and to public-information officer Wertheim, who advised that city legal staff had advised the chief not to comment because a notice of claim (the precursor to a lawsuit) has been filed against the city regarding the Yarnell Hill Fire.

(Willis sent a response to the questions that was received after publication of this story. His response is at the end of this story.)


Prescott Wildland Division Chief Darrell Willis.
John Dougherty

At the same time the wild fire closed in on Darrell Willis’ firefighters on the north end of the blaze, another indication of the state’s management breakdown unfolded on its south end.
The Forestry Division deployed a bare-bones management team to the fire on the morning of June 30 that did not include safety officers or division supervisors to oversee the field operations of hand crews, including the two hotshot units.

During an informal morning meeting, Field Operations Section Chief Abel appointed Granite Mountain Superintendent Marsh as a supervisor to oversee a geographic area on the southwest side of the fire designated Division A. Granite Mountain’s captain, Steed, took over direct command of the remaining 18 hotshots.

In his role as division supervisor for the Forestry Division, Marsh was placed in charge of his Granite Mountain crew, a decision wildfire experts say removed a crucial link in the chain of command. Granite Mountain, experts say, should have reported to an independent division supervisor unaffiliated with the crew who could provide an arm’s-length analysis of key decisions.

Forestry Division officials also appointed BLM firefighter Rance Marquez as the Division Zulu supervisor in charge of a geographic area immediately east of Marsh’s Division A. Marquez, who was to be in charge of Blue Ridge Hotshot operations, had not yet arrived on the scene.

Lacking guidance, Marsh and Blue Ridge Hotshot Superintendent Frisby met shortly before noon to discuss tactics.

“Frisby reported to Marsh that he attended a poor morning briefing” and that “radio communications problems” were affecting overall operations, the ADOSH report says. Marsh and Frisby then agreed on their own plan of how to build a fire line intended to protect Yarnell and Glen Ilah.

Marquez arrived at the fire about an hour later, about 1 p.m., and he, too, had problems with his radio.

Marquez spoke to Frisby in person and communicated with Marsh using Frisby’s radio. Marsh and Marquez could not come to an agreement over tactics. An airborne supervisor heard the discussion and “radioed command instructions for Frisby, Marsh, and Marquez,” the ADOSH report states.

But, according to the report, Marsh disagreed and radioed back the plans he had developed earlier with Frisby. Marquez then left the field and went to the Incident Command Center at a nearby school.

It is unclear what happened at the command center, but the ADOSH report states that Marquez “never returned” to command Division Zulu. Marquez’s sudden departure left Division Zulu without a direct field commander, a situation described by wildfire experts as extremely unusual.

“That doesn’t occur,” says Will Spyrison, a retired wild-lands firefighter who has developed a portable fire-management system for tablet computers. “The only reason [Marquez] should leave is to go to a safety zone and remain in command and control” of his crews.

The ADOSH report states that Marquez’s absence prevented the performance of a number of crucial duties, including implementation of a risk-management process to ensure firefighter safety and coordination of activities with adjacent divisions, including Marsh’s Division A.

Marquez did not immediately return a phone call or an e-mail sent to his business account requesting comment about the ADOSH report.

The lack of direct oversight left fire crews uncertain about when to evacuate from Yarnell and Glen Ilah as the winds shifted from the west. Fire managers abandoned the command post at 3:30 p.m., because of the impending threat of getting overrun by the blaze, but they did not order crews to evacuate from Yarnell and Glen Ilah as the fire raced toward the communities, the ADOSH report states.

Nearly 30 firefighters still were on the fire lines as late as 4:30 p.m. when the fire reached the perimeter of Glen Ilah.

“Firefighters on the ground could not see the flaming front as the sky was dark and the atmosphere smoky,” the ADOSH report says. “Crew members drove through extreme smoke, ash, and blowing embers to escape the fire.”


A Granite Mountain Hotshots T-shirt placed at the site where the men were killed.
John Dougherty

The ADOSH report widely is considered a major step forward in explaining the events that led up to the deaths of the 19 Granite Mountain crew members. But the report has flaws.
It does not close a lengthy communication gap with Granite Mountain from the time the crew began its descent from the mountain ridge until moments before it was forced to deploy fire shelters as it faced a wall of flames leaping toward its position at 4:42 p.m. The U.S. Forest Service’s refusal to cooperate with the investigation could have hindered efforts to better understand the crew’s final moments.

And, like those producing the Forestry Division-commissioned report, ADOSH report investigators apparently did not obtain and review cell-phone records to determine whether Granite Mountain crew members communicated with fire managers during the period that the decision to move off the mountain was made.

ADOSH commissioned Wildland Fire Associates, of Brentwood, Missouri, to write a narrative of events leading up to Granite Mountain’s entrapment. The narrative mistakenly states that the Forestry Division had a hotshot crew at the fire on June 29. In fact, Forestry had only deployed a six-member inmate crew from the Arizona State Prison-Lewis to fight the fire initially. The first hotshot crews did not arrive until June 30.

The ADOSH report also fails to mention two important Forestry Division assessments about potential major damage to communities, made at 12:30 p.m. and at 2:22 p.m. on June 30. Despite the bleak outlook, mandatory evacuations were not ordered for Yarnell residents.

In the first overview, state Fire Management Officer David Geyer gave a detailed accounting of the number of homes and businesses threatened by the fire, stating that 700 residences in Yarnell were at risk. Geyer also said the narrow roads within the communities prevented emergency vehicles from responding to the fire at the same time residents were evacuating.

“The area has not experienced a large fire in 45 years, and there is severe undergrowth,” he said.

Two hours later, incident commander Roy Hall provided a remarkably upbeat update even as the wildfire raged out of control devouring hundreds of acres an hour.

“Things going well,” Hall told state dispatchers at 2:22 p.m. “Impact should be kept to under 100 homes in Yarnell.”

While Hall may have thought limiting damage to 100 homes was a positive outcome, the state’s fire-management team did not get around to sharing this news with Yarnell residents until 3:30 p.m., when a mandatory evacuation order finally was issued.

The late notice left little time for many community residents to flee the fast-approaching blaze. It was just another example of a badly managed fire that resulted in the worst loss of life ever suffered by a national hotshot crew.

“They didn’t have a clue,” retired firefighter Spyrison says about Arizona managers of the Yarnell Hill Fire. “They didn’t follow professional standards.”



InvestigativeMEDIA received the following email at 12:31 p.m., Dec. 11, 2013 from Pete Wertheim, Prescott’s public information officer:

This e-mail is in response to your comments/questions that you sent to Chief Willis on 12/8/13.  This information was provided by Chief Willis:

Question/Comment #1

The report identifies you by name in its supplemental information as part of the incident management overseeing this area. (Page 13, Instance “a”, Paragraph 3). Incident “a” is included as part of the “serious willful” violation by the state forestry division of ARS Section 23-403(A).

 Response to Question/Comment #1

Chief Willis was responsible for the protection of the Double Bar A Ranch, Model Creek Subdivision and Peeples Valley.  On June 30, he was working under the direction of the IC as a Group Supervisor for Structure Group #2 until approximately 10:20 a.m. and as an Operations Section Chief after 10:20 a.m. (The City of Prescott issued the following correction to this statement at 1:03 p.m., Dec. 12: “There was a miscommunication the drafting of the response. Chief was working “under” Operations after 10:20, not as one.  We apologize for the misunderstanding.” Pete Wertheim, Communications and Public Affairs Manager, City of Prescott)

Question/Comment #2

OSHA states that a 20-member Yuma prison crew under your command “packed up and left” the fire at 1 p.m.

 Response to Question/Comment #2

The Yuma Department of Corrections Crew (DOC) did in fact work under the direction of Chief Willis the morning of June 30th in the Double Bar A Ranch area.  They were developing a firing plan for the property, when the Yuma DOC crew stated they had limited experience with firing operations so they, along with other resources at the time, were replaced by crews with that experience.

Question/Comment #3

In addition, OSHA states the tennis court designated as a safety zone “was known to be too small for the approaching 40 foot flames.”

Response to Question/Comment #3

The tennis court was, at most, a Deployment Zone to be used as a last ditch life saving site.

Question/Comment #4

OSHA also states fire management’s decision-making “incorrectly prioritized the value of non-defensible structures ahead of firefighter safety which violated both the State and Interagency wildland fire policy and procedures.”

Response to Question/Comment #4

All of the operations under the management of Chief Willis utilized the predetermined escape route and left the area safely with no injuries, accidents or incidents.

Pete Wertheim, Communications and Public Affairs Manager

City of Prescott

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


  1. Rocksteady says

    Re: WTKTT post of Dec 13, 9:56 pm

    Reading the whole transcript of Willis’s presentation, I have found what I believe is an error.

    When the other official comes up behind Willis and whispers.. The transcript says “Their time is up, Dude.”….. I believe he says “Air Attack was up too.”

    Maybe a minor error, but does show a different demeanor. Not nearly as negAtive. I have listened to it about 6 times and am pretty sure that is what he says.

    • WantsToKnowTheTruth says

      Reply to Rocksteady post on December 17, 2013 at 10:48 am

      I ran the audio through some ‘slow downer’ software and
      really cranked the volume this time… and you are
      absolutely RIGHT. That is exactly what he says.

      Good catch.

      All I could hear clearly on first pass was the UP word… and
      it just looked like he was telling Willis to ‘Wrap it UP’ with
      the press conference, or something. The ‘too’ sounded
      like ‘dude’… but I was always scratching my head about
      that. He didn’t look like someone who would use the
      word ‘dude’.

      Willis also says ‘Right’ in response to this, which was
      missing from the original transcript.

      The absolute proof is that, sure enough, exactly 92
      seconds after Willis is ‘reminded’ that “Air Attack was
      up, too”… he interrupts himself and inserts that exact
      update into his narrative when he says “One thing I
      forgot to mention is that we had Air Attack up, too,
      that day.”

      If I could ‘edit’ these posts, I would… but here would be
      the ‘updated’ section that would replace that original
      part of the transcript up above…

      Q: Chief… you mentioned something… ah… about them
      building a fire to protect themselves from the… a safety…

      ( Other official with blue shirt and blue cap steps up to Darrell
      Willis at this moment ( +48 seconds in video 2 ), interrupts the
      reporter asking the question, and audibly ‘whispers’ in his ear…
      “Air Attack was UP, too”. Willis whispers back “Right”. The
      reporter who was interrupted then resumes their original
      question… )

      …a safety fire to protect themselves from the wildfire that
      was running. Can you talk about that… cus it’s an interesting
      strategy (and) very peculiar to wildland firefighters?

      Willis: No. It’s a… It’s a very common occurrence… and… uh…
      and what the back-firing situation was around the deployment…
      they didn’t have enough to cut… uh… uh… a larger… uh…
      space for a safety zone…


      At +2:20… Willis remembers what he was reminded to say by
      the fellow in the blue cap and inserts the “Air Attack was up, too”
      comments into his narrative to the press.

  2. John Dougherty says

    Please refrain from ANY personal attacks or nasty comments concerning anyone posting on this site. Please maintain a professional approach to discussing the issues. Disagreement is natural. But name calling will not be tolerated and anyone who continues to post in this manner will be permanently blocked from the site. Thank you, John

  3. The Truth Will Always Remain Elusive says

    After my first read of the interview notes, a couple of things seemed like new info to me:

    WTKTT, you have been chasing time accuracies (much of them conflicting) from the various information sources and reports. In that regard, I would like to refer you to p32 of the recently released interview notes. On that page is a little blurb regarding the time-stamp accuracy of Joy’s photos, which mentions ‘checking the time stamp of the reporter’s photo of Joy’s phone to see difference in time stamps’. With your pursuit of a correct time line, I thought this might be of interest to you.

    p46 of the interview notes states that BR was assigned to Division A. I don’t think I have ever read or heard that before, but come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve previously seen any notes or documents officially assigning them to DIV Z. I just made that assumption because that is where DIV Z (Marquez) was instructed to go to. Apparently, there is no record assigning him ANY resources. With DIV Z showing up in the middle of the work day, wanting to take a certain piece of ground and resources from DIV A, it is easy to see how friction could develop between A and Z.

    • WantsToKnowTheTruth says

      Reply to TTWARE post on December 16, 2013 at 8:31 am

      ** Re: Page 32 of SAIT notes

      Yes… there was a point when a reporter simply took a picture
      of Joy’s phone showing the TIME… and then compared that
      to what the actual time WAS. I don’t know the results of that.
      Joy Collura has also been in touch with her mother, who she
      called while she was out on the ridge, to verify times and
      I believe she ( Joy ) has even gone so far as to request a
      copy of her mother’s phone billing records to verify exact
      time of some calls. Apparently… Joy was using some kind
      of ‘paid up’ phone or calling plan that doesn’t send her
      her own detailed calling/billing information.

      Regardless… I don’t think ayone has proven that any timestamps
      on any Collura photo are inaccurate. Joy Collura hikes with
      scientific instruments and I believe some of the other times
      she reports ( such as meeting Eric Marsh at exactly 8:07 AM
      that morning up near the ridge ) were being read from actual
      analog watches and Kestral instruments…. and not a ‘phone’.

      The TIME game here has been an ongoing nightmare.

      There are moments, when reading these reports, when I wonder
      if ANYONE in Yavapai County actually knew what time it
      really was that day.

      ** Re: Page 46 of SAIT notes.

      Discovering now ( and only after months and two highly
      expensive official reports ) that Blue Ridge was actually
      part of Marsh’s DIVS A does not surprise me. I can’t
      believe we had to just discover that in “interviewer’s notes”
      that had to be obtained with FOIA/FOIL… but such is this
      entire fiasco.

      It actually explains a lot of what happened that day to know
      that Brian Frisby considered Marsh his ‘boss’ that afternoon.

      It explains Marsh ‘dissing’ both Rance Marquez ( DIVS Z )
      and Rory Collins ( Air Attack ) and insisting that the plan
      he and Brian Frisby had already agreed on be the one
      that they continue working on.

      It also explains the mysterious ‘request for a second
      face-to-face’ meeting from Marsh to Frisby… just before
      Brendan had to abandon his lookout position. I have always
      thought that was curious. It was a TERRIBLE inconvenience
      for Frisby to have to drop what he was doing at that busy
      time and schlep all the way out to that ridge ( 2 miles )
      on a UTV just because Marsh didn’t feel comfortable
      talking about something over the radio…

      …but inconvenient or not… Frisby agreed to do it.

      That’s when he ‘accidentally’ found Brendan and motored
      him back east and out of there.

      It makes sense now that if Marsh ‘requested’ the meeting…
      Brian felt the need to comply becase Marsh was ‘DIVS A’
      and his BOSS at that moment.

  4. calvin says

    The YCSO report reveals that 6 cell phones were recovered. Mackenzie, Ashcraft, Norris, Parker, Whitted,Caldwell. Please correct me if I am mistaken. Wtktt, please review the Parker picture. Are the gm buggies visible in this picture?

    • WantsToKnowTheTruth says

      Reply to calvin post on December 16, 2013 at 6:08 am

      >> calvin wrote…
      >> The YCSO report reveals that 6 cell phones were recovered.

      Yes. No question.

      >> calvin also wrote…
      >> Mackenzie, Ashcraft, Norris, Parker, Whitted, Caldwell.
      >> Please correct me if I am mistaken.

      All I get from the only YCSO police document I have seen
      is that 3 of the phones were ‘associated with a firefighter’
      but 3 of them were NOT.

      YCSO identified Whitted, MacKenzie, Caldwell phones.
      We also KNOW from other evidence that Ashcraft
      and Parker had smartphones and were using them.

      By my count… that still leaves 1 of the phones recovered
      by YCSO not attributed to anyone yet. This could be Marsh’s.

      Your turn to correct ME.

      Am I missing photographic evidence that would account
      for that other unidentified phone?


      The numbers on the left are the YCSO police evidence
      numbers assigned to the phones they recovered.

      Identified ( by YCSO )

      324 – Whitted – Condition unknown – Type = iPhone – Sent to ACTIC
      326 – MacKenzie – Functional – Type = ? – Scraped with Cellebrite software.
      327 – Caldwell – Functional – Type = iPhone – Password Protected – Sent to ACTIC.

      Unidentified ( by YCSO )…

      401 – Mystery. Not associated with any firefighter. Sent to ACTIC.
      405 – Mystery. Not associated with any firefighter. Sent to ACTIC.
      320 – Mystery. Found loose in fire shelter 305 that had no firefighter in it. Sent to ACTIC.

      NOTE: Keep in mind that YCSO only found 6 phones… but
      they also did NOT take any of the ‘backpacks’ away from
      the deployment site. They specifically left the backpacks
      where they were at the deployment site for the SAIT

      The SAIT people found a partially melted phone on the side
      of one of the packs and that became YCSO evidence 324.
      It was associated with Whitted because it had a ‘colored case’
      and apparently Whitted’s family was able to identify it.

      However… there MIGHT have been a phone stowed in a
      pack that was never found before a pack was returned
      to a family member ( as in… Amanda Marsh? ).

      >> calvin also wrote
      >> Wtktt, please review the Parker picture.
      >> Are the gm buggies visible in this picture?

      No… but the location in the distance where they are
      parked is ( visible ).

      This will be hard to describe with just words but I’ll try.

      SAIR page 24 – Figure 9 – Wade Parker photo.

      Let your eye travel straight up from the top of the black helmet
      of the only firefighter in the photo to the center of the photo.
      There is a ‘knoll’ there in the center of the photo.
      Now let your eye travel a little to the right and you
      will see a smaller knoll. I’ve actually been calling these
      ‘Big Round Top’ and ‘Little Round Top’ in my own notes.
      Just above that smaller knoll, farther in the distance,
      you will see a little bright TAN spot. That is part of
      the ‘clearing’ where the GM vehicles were parked.


      calvin… remember your observation about Marsh NOT saying
      he was ‘DIVS A’ in that Globe Type II video on Youtube that
      was shot from the parking lot of the Yarnell Fire Station
      in the morning?

      Well… apparently there is evidence now that Marsh was
      NOT ‘informed’ he was to be ‘DIVS A’ until later that
      morning after he was already ‘out on the hike’.

      That would confirm your assumption that the reason Marsh
      did not identify himself as ‘DIVS A’ in that captured radio
      transmission in the video is because it hadn’t even
      happened yet.

      • calvin says

        ADOSH has a picture from Scott Norris in their map and photo section. Wtktt, is that steed identifying himself as granite mountain7?

        • WantsToKnowTheTruth says

          Reply to calvin post Dec 16, 2013 at 2:28 pm

          >> calvin wrote…
          >> ADOSH has a picture from Scott Norris in
          >> their map and photo section.

          Yes. You are right. ADOSH photo #30.
          ADOSH also says this photo accompanied
          a ‘text’ to his mother saying “This fire is
          running at Yarnell”… so that means it pretty
          much HAD to be one of the smartphones that
          YCSO said it could not associate with a

          So that accounts for all 6 cell/smart phones
          listed as entered into evidence by YCSO police.

          That leaves quite a mystery now, doesn’t it?

          Here we now have multiple entries in the SAIT
          notes referencing Marsh specifically calling
          OPS1 ( Abel ) with a ‘cell phone’ to discuss the
          argument he had with DIVS Z ( Marquez ).

          I still think it’s unlikely Marsh would ‘borrow’
          someone’s phone to do that… for two good

          1) Marsh was nowhere near the other crew
          members at the time this ‘argument’ took place
          with Marquez and the subsequent ‘resolution
          with a cell phone’ recorded in the SAIT notes.
          So how could he borrow someone else’s phone
          when he was off by himself ‘scouting around’
          as DIVS A?

          2) The SAIT notes also say that Abel ‘believes that
          was the last cell phone conversation’ he had that
          day with Marsh. This automatically implies that
          there were MULTIPLE calls from Marsh over
          a cell phone… not just one. If Marsh was calling
          Abel a ‘number of times’ over the cell phone…
          it also seems unlikely he would have been using
          any phone other than one that belonged to him
          and that he had with him ‘off by himself’ that day.

          So there’s the mystery.

          Where the heck is Marsh’s cell/smartphone?

          It doesn’t appear to have ever made it into the
          YCSO police investigator’s hands.

          Was is stowed in his backpack, which was left
          at the site for the SAIT people… and either no
          one ever found it before the pack was returned
          to Marsh’s wife, Amanda… or did the SAIT people
          find it and never turned it over to the police?

          Either way… even if Marsh did BORROW someone
          else’s phone for his (multiple) calls to Abel
          ( and others? ) that morning/afternoon… the call
          history logs on that phone should still reveal
          everything. We are back to ACTIC results again.

          >> calvin also wrote…
          >> Wtktt, is that steed identifying himself as
          >> granite mountain7?

          Where… in the new video released last Friday?

          Yes. I would put money on it.

          Marsh was too experienced, cool headed, and
          conscientious to NOT precede his radio traffic
          with the ‘DIVS A’ call sign that day as long as
          he had that job and knew that was his place
          in the command structure.

          I still believe the first time we hear Marsh in that
          MAYDAY sequence is when he does finally come
          on the radio ( totally out of breath because he was
          running up from behind to where Steed was ) and
          then identifies himself with…

          “This is DIVS A with Granite Mountain”.

          • calvin says

            photo #30by Norris. Is it possible that this picture was taken during the Mackenzie video by the firefighter standing alone to the North (I think North.) he appears to be possibly taking a picture?
            Another question. It seems like I remember reading that before GM became a type 1 crew they were called GM7, sound familiar?

      • calvin says

        WTKTT, Thanks for taking the time to review the parker photo. I appreciate the great description in your comment. As I look at this picture again I see the tan spot (clearing). There appears to be something white on the west end, it is not very clear but distinctive against the bright tan spot. I am asking because, according to BR interview notes, (p8)….Get to the trucks Brian gets GM with only minutes before the fire would have been on them. The picture by Parker does not show fire in proximity to the GM buggy parking area and BR indicate moving them just before burnover. You would think the GM buggies would still be in the parking area when parker picture is taken based on the ONLY interviews given by BR. Also, are the names Big and Little roundtop on the map or have they been identified elsewhere as such? Thanks

  5. WantsToKnowTheTruth says


    The SAIT NOTES released on Friday state CLEARLY that there is more
    Christopher MacKenzie video/audio ( and/or other video/audio ) available
    that has never been seen ( or heard ) publicly.

    Jim Karels himself says ( in his notes ) that this ‘unreleased’ video/audio
    covers the Steed/Marsh ‘discussing their options’ timeframe and contains
    Todd Abel’s (OPS1′s) participation ( and voice ) in this discussion.

    I think it’s ironic ( and, somehow, appropriate ) that Jim Karels himself is the
    one who has ‘slipped up’ in his notes and revealed that the SAIT was ( with
    HIS ultimate permission and guidance ) letting the SAIT members edit and
    withhold evidence, dial back times on a poor dead boy’s last photographs,
    and omit key testimony and facts from the SAIR document and the carefully
    coordinated September 28, 2013 ‘media dump’.

    When Jim Karels ( the head of the entire SAIT team ) was interviewing OPS1
    ( Todd Abel )… he specifically asked him if he recalled him telling Marsh
    ‘hunker and be safe’… because they have him captured on VIDEO / AUDIO
    as ‘having said that to Marsh’.

    Abel says he doesn’t recall that conversation… even though it was captured
    on video/audio.

    Guess what?

    There is no “hunker and be safe” moment in the publicly released
    ( and obviously edited ) 9 second video clips from Christopher MacKenzie.

    So what ‘video evidence of the conversation’ is Jim Karels referring to?

    Parts that have been EDITED OUT of the public MacKenzie clips…
    …or is there even another VIDEO ( or more than one ) that we still don’t
    know about that was capturing the ‘discussing their options’ conversation?

    What follows is the ‘proof’ itself from page 1 of the SAIT NOTES, and then
    then what ALL the other ‘reports’ say about this ‘hunker and be safe’

    It’s a fascinating look at how the exact SAME EVENT is described differently
    in ( count ‘em ) FOUR different documents now all paid for with Arizona
    taxpayer dollars.

    Pay close attention to the ‘~1555′ entry from Jim Karel’s notes directly below.

    Going into the interview with Todd Abel… Jim Karels already KNOWS that
    Abel told Marsh to ‘hunker and be safe’ because Karel’s own notes say
    ‘we have that radio conversation captured on video’.

    Abel himself then says he doesn’t recall that conversation.

    So how could the SAIR then end up saying Abel DID tell Marsh to ‘hunker
    and be safe’ ( which it does ) unless Karels is telling the truth here in his
    notes about them ‘having that radio conversation captured on video’?

    SAIT NOTES – Page 1

    These notes are compiled from recollections of, and discussions between,
    the accident team members who interviewed people involved with the
    Yarnell Hill Fire.

    Interview with Todd Abel by J Karels on 8/14/2013

    Just after the later weather forecast (around 1530) was when Marsh mentioned
    the winds squirrely. The broadcast came out, He’s (Abel) listening on the radio
    if everyone got it. He (Abel) thinks he might have walked over marsh. so he
    (Abel) calls (Marsh) to confirm with marsh that he got it and he did.

    Re: The ~1555 radio conversation that we HAVE ON THE VIDEO,
    (which includes the phrase okay, you hunker down in the black).
    Abel did not recall having this conversation with Marsh.

    NOTE: There it is. Jim Karels admits they have more video/audio
    covering this crucial Steed/Marsh ‘discussing their options’ timeframe
    which also includes Todd Abel’s participation in that discussion.

    What follows now is what actually ended up appearing in ALL the released
    reports regarding this timeframe covered in Karel’s notes…

    SAIR – Page 22…

    OPS1 is listening on the radio to make sure everyone received the most
    recent weather announcement. At about 1550, he radios DIVS A directly
    to ask if he got the weather update and if he is “in a good spot.” DIVS A
    affirms that he received the update, and he tells OPS1 the winds are
    starting to get “squirrely” up on the ridge. He says he is working his way
    off the top and OPS1 closes by advising DIVS A to hunker and be safe.

    NOTE: NO mention that this ‘hunker and be safe’ advice was actually
    captured on video as the SAIT NOTES say it was, or any mention
    that Abel himself told the SAIT he ‘did not even recall’ that part
    of the conversation even though they ‘have it on the video’.

    WFAR – Page 14…

    At 1550, several communications occurred at or near the same
    time. Field OSC called DIVS A by radio to make sure that DIVS A
    was aware of the latest weather update. DIVS A confirmed the
    update and noted that the winds were getting “squirrely” on the
    ridge. DIVS A informed Field OSC that GMIHC moving off the top.

    NOTE: NO mention of the ‘hunker and be safe’ directive from OPS1 ( Abel ).

    ADOSH – Page 18

    At approximately 1545 hours, Division A Supervisor Marsh had a
    radio conversation with Operations Section Chief 1 Abel
    regarding the weather and the position of Granite Mountain IHC.
    Marsh was located near the top of the Weaver Mountains and
    had a clear view of the thunderstorm, the fire, and the valley below.
    Marsh and Abel had been watching the storm for some time
    and discussed their concerns regarding the storm’s effects.
    Marsh reportedly stated that Granite Mountain was safe and
    in the black ( i.e, previously burned wildland ). Marsh mentioned
    that the winds were “squirrely” at his position and that the
    retardant and dozer lines north of Yarnell were being comprised.

    Shortly thereafter ( 1545 ) Operations Section Chief II Musser
    radioed GMIHC and asked if they could spare resources
    to assist in Yarnell. Either Marsh or GMIHC Captain Steed
    responded that they were committed to the black and
    that Musser should contact BRIHC working in the valley
    ( during his interview Musser stated that he wasn’t sure
    who he was talking with ).

    NOTE: The ADOSH version of these ‘moments’ contains much
    more detail about what Abel and Marsh ‘talked about’ and
    includes the same ‘winds are getting squrrely’ quote from
    Marsh… but the ADOSH narrative says NOTHING about
    Abel advising Marsh to ‘hunker and be safe’… even though
    the SAIT NOTES say they have Abel recorded ‘on video’
    as having said this around that time.


    So somebody throw me a bone here.

    FOUR documents paid for with Arizona taxpayer dollars and we still don’t
    have the ‘straight story’.

    How many MORE reports ( and more taxpayer dollars ) is
    it going to take to get the frickin’ TRUTH, here?

    WHERE is this VIDEO that Jim Karels himself admits they HAVE?

    • Elizabeth N. says

      WTKTT: It is only now that the materials from the SAIR are being released via FOIA/FOIL. I was told by an official on Friday that I was going to be receiving (as part of my materials) a “lot” of “boring” video. Presumably the video referenced in the SAIR will be included.

      If I find it in my materials before the media does, I will certainly post it here… unless xxfullsailxx (aka Darin) has not driven me off this website by then.

        • WantsToKnowTheTruth says

          You were right BOTH ways. The “hunker and be
          safe” directive from OPS1 ( Abel ) to Marsh is
          referenced in BOTH the SAIR and Jim Karel’s
          notes. That’s the point. Karel’s notes say that
          the only reason they can be sure Abel said that
          to Marsh is because they “have it in the VIDEO”,
          but Karel’s notes also say Abel did not specifically
          recall saying that when he was interviewed.

          So for them to “run the quote”, anyway, in the
          SAIR itself, is further proof that Karels was
          telling the truth in his notes and the SAIT
          DOES have a ‘video recording’ of Abel
          saying that.

          If that video is not in the FOIA/FOIL release…
          then something is REALLY ‘rotten in the
          state of Denmark’.

      • WantsToKnowTheTruth says

        Reply to Connor post on February 25, 2014 at 5:47 pm

        >> Connor said…
        >> hey i found the conversation you are alluding to in one
        >> of robert caldwells videos. Its the second one.

        Thanks, Connor… YES… it most certainly is.

        Things moved pretty fast after my post above where I
        found the proof that they MUST have had that video
        proof of Abel talking to Marsh… even though none of
        the SAIT FOIA/FOIL material had been seen yet.

        Sure enough… there it was.

        They even had their own ‘enhanced audio’ track from
        that video with a ‘gain boost’ on it so you can clearly
        hear Todd Abel telling Eric Marsh ALL of the following…

        1) Keep ME informed ( of your situation and whereabouts )
        2) Hunker and be safe ( in the black )
        3) We’ll get some Air Support down there ASAP

        The only ongoing discussion now is whether or not
        these can be considered ‘direct orders’ from OPS1
        command level to DIVSA level… and that means
        Marsh directly violated these orders when both he
        and Steed/Crew ‘left the black’. See Chapter V of
        this ongoing discussion about this ‘hunker and be
        safe’ order? / directive? / suggestion? / advice?

        Personally… I think this was about as close to an ‘order
        as things get in this WFF culture just short of Abel
        actually saying “I order you to.. xxxxxx”.

  6. NV says

    The timing of the last conversation between Willis and Marsh now reported on WildfireToday is going to be critical. It gets even more important for all cell records to be comprehensively looked at.

    • mike says

      I really think based on the way it is mentioned in the interview notes, I think that conversation took place early in the day – maybe even over the phone at 0600. I posted on this on the other thread here (the ADOSH one).

    • WantsToKnowTheTruth says

      Willis first showed up at the Yarnell Hill Fire at 11:30 PM
      on Saturday night… and he stayed up ALL night scouting
      the Model Creek and Peeples Valley area and meeting
      with Schumate throughout the night, who was also
      ‘staying up all night’.

      Willis was VERY much aware of the fire situation, and whether
      it was ‘anchored’ or not… LOOONG before Eric Marsh got there.

      Here is the detail ( from ADOSH ) on exactly when Willis
      got there and what he was doing ALL NIGHT…


      From ADOSH – Page 14

      Saturday, June 29, 2013

      Between 1730 and 1924, the fire behavior and complexity
      continued to escalate. ASFD began dispatching a Type 2
      Incident Management Team. In addition, two structure group
      specialists were requested ( one for the north of the fire –
      Model Creek and Peeples Valley, and one for the south of
      the fire – Yarnell and Glen Ilah ).

      ASFD also requested three Interagency Hotshot Crews
      (IHCs). Three IHCs were assigned the Yarnell Fire: Blue
      Ridge IHC, GMIHC ( a local crew, ordered filled internally ),
      and Arroyo Grande IHC (who ultimately missed this assignment).

      NOTE: Darrell Willis would be the one filling the ‘structure
      group specialist’ position for the north side of the fire. ( Model
      Creek and Peeples Valley area ).

      At approximately 2330 hours ( 11:30 PM Saturday night ),
      Darrell Willis arrived at the Yarnell Hill Fire incident command
      post ( at the Yarnell Hill Fire Station ) and met with Shumate.

      Shumate instructed Willis to scout the north side of the fire
      and determine risk to structures.

      At approximately 2340 hours ( 11:40 PM Saturday night and
      only 10 minutes after Willis arrived ), Structure Protection
      Group 1 Supervisor Gary Cordes arrived at the Yarnell Fire
      Station. He met with Shumate and was assigned by Shumate
      to implement a plan for the structure protection of Yarnell and
      Glen Ilah.

      Through the night and into the morning Willis scouted the area
      (to the north). At or about 0100 ( 1:00 AM Sunday morning )
      while scouting the Double Bar A Ranch, Willis notes in his unit
      log that the seven structures present there are all high risk,
      low probability of success.

      ADOSH – Page 15

      At approximately 0100 hours ( 1:00 AM Sunday morning ), Willis
      noted ( in his unit log ) that the fire was approximately 100 acres
      in size and actively burning on the east slope of the Weaver
      Mountains. He estimated flame lengths to be in excess of 20 feet.

      At 0300 ( 3:00 AM Sunday morning ), Shumate, Cordes and
      Willis ordered additional resources based on the structure
      protection needs identified during scouting. Shumate assigned
      Willis the role of Structure Protection Group 2 Supervisor and
      given responsibility for protection of structures at the north side
      of the fire ( i.e. Double Bar A Ranch, Model Creek, and
      Peeples Valley ).

      At 0330 ( 3:30 AM Sunday morning ), Willis and Schumate
      discussed the fire situation, very active fire behavior and
      probable outcomes for the strategy.

      At approximately 0600 hours ( 6:00 AM Sunday morning ),
      additional crews and equipment begain arriving at the fire scene.
      ( List of resources follows but GMIHC is not listed as arriving at
      that time ).

      NOTE: The ADOSH makes no mention of when GMIHC arrived
      that day until it briefly mentions that Eric Marsh was ‘reported’
      ( but not confirmed ) to have attended the 7:00 AM briefing at
      the Yarnell Fire Station.


      ** UP ALL NIGHT

      Willis had been up ALL NIGHT prior to the Sunday, June 30
      workday. He arrived in Yarnell at 11:30 PM the night before and
      there is no evidence of how much sleep he had gotten Friday
      night… so Williis may have been already quite tired before he
      even arrived in Yarnell Saturday night. This may have been
      affecting his decision making during the afternoon when he
      was running the Double Bar A Ranch protection operation
      where we see bad decision making like a ‘tennis court for a
      safety/deployment zone’.

      The ADOSH report goes to great lengths reporting how
      ‘fatigued’ Shumate was and was making poor decisions the
      morning of Sunday, June 30.

      Willis had been up all night together with Shumate so it’s
      reasonable to assume Willis was just as ‘fatigued’ on Sunday
      as Shumate is reported to have been.

      Schumate was relieved by Roy Hall before noon on Sunday…
      but Willis just kept working all day Sunday in important
      supervisory positions(s).

      ** UNIT LOGS

      The ADOSH is quoting extensively from Willis’ unit logs for this
      information. I think that means it’s reasonable to assume that
      Willis WAS in the habit of updating his ‘unit logs’ in REAL TIME,
      given the detail being quoted.

      Willis was the Prescott Wildland Division Chief. I think it’s also
      reasonable to assume that if it was HIS habit of keeping
      ‘unit logs’ and also being sure they were updated in REAL TIME
      and not in ‘lazy later mode’… then this requirement to both
      keep ‘unit logs’ and keep them constantly updated ‘in the field’
      would have been a requirement of the GMIHC unit that he was
      directly responsible for.

      As I understand it… the choice to keep/update ‘unit logs’ in
      the WFF business is mostly a ‘do as your supervisor’ does
      sort of thing.

      Well… in this case… we have direct evidence that Willis believed
      strongly in ‘keeping real-time unit logs’ so it’s reasonable to
      assume that’s what his employees Marsh and Steed were
      also ‘required’ to do.

      So where are Marsh’s and Steed’s ‘unit logs’ from
      Saturday, June 30, 2013?

      According to the SAIR… if they were simply in their front
      shirt pockets or their pants pockets or even just stowed
      in their backpacks…

      …then these documents SHOULD have survived the burnover.

          • WantsToKnowTheTruth says

            I have some pretty sophisticated software
            here of my own that I use… but you really
            don’t need to even download or install

            These days… there are simple ONLINE
            applications that ‘do it all’.

            One of the easiest to use is below.

            It lets you pull pretty much any metadata
            that exists ( including JPEG EXIF ) out
            of ANY photo ANYWHERE on the web
            or on your own hard drive.

            Caveat: You have to be looking at either
            an original photo or an unedited copy
            of it uploaded to a web site in order to
            see the ACTUAL original metadata.

            Here is that (simple) online extractor…


  7. Rocksteady says

    From a personal point of view, I do not disagree with McDonough bringing a lawyer.

    As the only surviving member of the crew, who knows what accusations would be thrown at him, and what potential liability he could be accused of in the age of litigation happy America.

  8. WantsToKnowTheTruth says

    Reply to mike post on December 14, 2013 at 12:15 am

    ** Both Brendan McDonough and Darrell Willis had attorneys
    ** present for their ADOSH interview(s).

    >> mike wrote…
    >> You are not going to believe this (well actually you will).
    >> The SAIT had to supply their interviews with everyone to whom they talked
    >> to the Republic. So you think you would get a list of questions and answers.
    >> But you would be wrong! No, they supplied a series of narrative bullet points
    >> from each interview. Nothing about what McDonough heard on the radio
    >> (he says he had it on with the volume up) and nothing about Musser making
    >> any sort of request. This lack of cooperation/compliance with FOI requests
    >> really needs to be slapped down. These people are thumbing their noses at
    >> all those trying to find out what happened.
    >> This is essentially redactions without the redactions.
    >> Surely the media won’t let them get away with this behavior.
    >> The touch with the McDonough interview is especially rich. It’s like “you
    >> know we know what he heard on that radio, but if you think we’re going to
    >> tell you, dream on”.

    It’s now being reported that the SAIT people purposely did NOT record
    the interviews or even take any notes/transcripts. It was a decided
    legal tactic. Plausible denial.

    I don’t think the ADOSH folks took the same approach… and they DID,
    in fact, conduct their OWN interviews with both Darrell Willis and
    Brendan McDonough.

    There hasn’t been much discussion about the first part of the ADOSH
    report where they detail all the communications they had and documented
    ‘event points’ in their own investigation.

    The actual dates of the Willis and McDonough ADOSH interviews
    are clearly documented there.

    BOTH of them had ‘attorneys’ present for their ADOSH interviews.

    Willis was using the regular Prescott City Attorney John Paladini…
    but McDonough showed up with his own PRIVATE attorney
    Emily (Christine) Dolan.

    From ADOSH – Page 7

    August 19, 2013 – ADOSH conducts interviews with City of Prescott employees
    Dan Fraijo and Darrell Willis. The City of Prescott Attorney Jon Paladini is
    present for the interviews.

    From ADOSH – Page 8

    August 20, 2013 – ADOSH conducts interviews with City of Prescott
    employees Tony Sciacca and Brendan McDonough.
    Brendan McDonough has his personal attorney Emily Dolan present
    for his interview.

    Emily Christine Dolan
    Attorney in Prescott, Arizona.
    Warnock Mackinlay & Carman PLLC
    246 S Cortez St
    Prescott, AZ 86303
    Office: 480-428-1512
    Fax: 480-833-2175

    So even if Brendan is REFUSING to discuss or disclose what he heard
    during that infamous ‘discussing their options’ conversation between
    Steed and Marsh… I would imagine the actual ADOSH interview
    recording or transcript will record the REASON his attorney would
    have been giving for non-cooperation on her client’s part.

    I doubt he could possibly be asserting the 5th ammendment over this.

    Absolutely NO ONE is accusing Brendan McDonough of having done
    anything WRONG here… or ever possibly could, really.

    It’s simply about what he KNOWS… as (perhaps) the only living witness
    to a conversation that would explain the fundamental reason why
    2 men led 17 others to their deaths on the afternoon of June 30, 2013.

    He can ‘lawyer up’ all he wants.

    I think he owes it to himself and a LOT of other people to say what
    he does or doesn’t know.

    “I don’t remember” is valid. It’s possible he doesn’t. Maybe he went to
    take a pee in the bushes when the crucial information flew by…

    …but even it that’s all there is to it… he should say so.

    This is not just a bus accident. It’s a HISTORIC event that deserves
    to be fully ( and accurately ) documented for posterity.

  9. says

    InvestigativeMEDIA will have a copy of all records released by the Arizona Forestry Division on Monday. Additional information, including the entire radio calls video (The Arizona Republic edited its version) will be posted. Thank you, John

    • WantsToKnowTheTruth says

      Reply to John Dougherty post on December 14, 2013 at 8:12 am

      No… Thank YOU, John.

      Apparently… AZCENTRAL no longer even has a link to the
      ‘PDF: Notes’ as they did when the story first ran… so for
      those of us who didn’t get a chance to read all the notes
      it would be great to have them posted somewhere.

      Also… once again… Thank YOU for your patience with all
      of this commenting/research… even as disjointed as it can get
      sometimes. I think it has ALL been ( and continues to be )
      adding up to a ‘sum that is greater than its parts’.

      More to come… let us all carry on…

      PS: Some video segments on some MSM TV sites on Friday
      were showing brief glimpses of actual security camera
      footage from the Boulder Springs Ranch on or near
      the time of the burnover. I’d be really interested to know
      if that COMPLETE footage is part of the ‘package’ that
      YOU receive. It’s important.

  10. WantsToKnowTheTruth says

    The new video/audio released today is going viral.

    It’s only 1:00 AM and I am seeing all the MSM ( MainStream Media )
    feed sites picking it up.

    Going to be a busy MSM cycle tomorrow.

    Newtown 1 year anniversary
    Updates on today’s Colorado School shooting.
    Video/Audio of last moments of Granite Mountain.

  11. mike says

    You are not going to believe this (well actually you will). The SAIT had to supply their interviews with everyone they to whom they talked to the Republic. So you think you would get a list of questions and answers. But you would be wrong! No, they supplied a series of narrative bullet points from each interview. Nothing about what McDonough heard on the radio (he says he had it on with the volume up) and nothing about Musser making any sort of request. This lack of cooperation/compliance with FOI requests really needs to be slapped down. These people are thumbing their noses at all those trying to find out what happened.

    • WantsToKnowTheTruth says

      I just hope they don’t start DESTROYING evidence, at this point.

      I honestly wouldn’t put anything past them at this point.

      This organization is populated with individuals who meet the
      classic personality description of… “It’s OUR world… and you
      are just IN it. Leave us alone.”

      I think they all need to check their paystubs and remind
      themselves WHO is ( and has always been ) paying them.

      • mike says

        This is essentially redactions without the redactions. Surely the media won’t let them get away with this behavior.

        The touch with the McDonough interview is especially rich. It’s like “you know we know what he heard on that radio, but if you think we’re going to tell you, dream on”.

  12. WantsToKnowTheTruth says


    These transcripts come from the video(s) of the event which are available
    at the following location…

    NOTE: Willis’ detailed and enthusiastic descriptions of how ‘well’ he thought
    Marsh and Steed selected their deployment site are in the question/answer
    section below with reporters after Willis finished his ‘speech’.


    My name is Darrell Willis

    D-A-R-R-E-L-L W-I-L-L-I-S

    I’m a (Wildland) Division Chief with the City of Prescott Fire Department.

    Well… you’ve… uh… all made it to the site where 19 Granite
    Mountain… uh… Hotshots died on June 30th.

    Uh… this is exactly the ground that they died on.

    This is a… ah… ah… ya know… ah… pretty emotional place to be for me right
    now… ah… and I’m sure you all… you haven’t had an opportunity to look at this
    site… and you look at the… the vastness of this… ah… bowl that they were in.

    I think you have to put it in context of what they were… ah… doing that day.
    They weren’t here all day long. They were actually on top of the mountains
    to… off of my… ah… left shoulder… to your right.

    Ah… you wouldn’t have been able to see where they were actually coming from
    but… ah… when you can back in Yarnell you can kinda picture where they were
    coming from and… uh… stuff.

    Ya know… they were doing their job… uh… that they were assigned to do…
    and… uh… one of the basic tenets of wildland fire fighting is anchoring the fire.

    There were structure protection groups that were in place in Yarnell,
    Model Creek, the Double Bar A Ranch… ah… doing structure protection work.
    And… basically… Granite Mountain had our backs for the other folks
    that were there. Ah… fighting the… doing point protection on the structures…
    and they were the ones that were gonna ultimately, along with other Hotshot
    crews and other crews… were going to provide a safe work environment… or
    a working area… for the others to work in…

    Uh… but somebody has to start first.

    So they hiked in. Uh… not at… from the location that we came in but a little
    further north. They hiked in… got up on top of the mountain… and… ah… were
    doing their… their work at… uh… all day long.

    And I think you’ve all seen some pictures… or some text pictures that were… that
    were taken about a Lunch Spot that they were on. That’s about a mile and a
    half from here.

    Up… and if you look at… look above me you’ll see a… a two-track road that
    leads out pretty much to the ridge line further north… and… that’s where they
    were at at the time.

    And then the… uh… fire behavior began to pick up that day

    And uh… this area that were standing in right now is all… was all green
    at…uh… 4 o’clock in the afternoon.

    Uh… it was 10 foot chaparral. Very volatile fuel.
    Uh.. in fact… we would have had a very difficult time…
    We couldn’t have walked in the way we walked in.
    Normal people can’t do that but Hotshots can find their way through.

    Uh… this was all green at the time.

    They saw that the… uh… fire activity was picking up, and it had turned a little
    bit… and… there was a line of fire from the ridge top… beyond where they
    where down lower into the valley probly a mile or two… mile and a half line
    of.. uh.. fire… and it’s chaparral that started to move to the south.

    And… uh.. ya know…

    Most of this information I’m… I’m giving you was information that I’ve gathered
    uh… based on some of the information maps and stuff like that.

    I happened to be on the fire… on the north end of of the fire that day…
    doing structure protection… so I wasn’t really involved with what
    they (GM) were doing… but we are able to monitor the, ah… radio
    frequencies that they were on… and WE heard that… ah… they were
    gonna move out and… ah… start coming in a… a southerly direction
    based on the fire behavior.

    So if you’ll look up there’s a saddle up there just above this rock pile
    here ( gestures to the north side of the box canyon )… they came through
    that area and they started to move down in this area ( the deployment site ).

    ( Long pause ).

    Umm… MY thought on it were… was… that they were not trying… they were
    in a safe location. They were not… ah… satisfied… and no wildland firefighter
    is satisfied sitting there and watching the fire progress without doing… taking
    some action. Uh… they realized that the fire had changed direction, the wind
    was picking up out of the north, and… uh… they… when they moved back into
    that saddle they saw the town of Yarnell that was unprotected… they also…
    if you’re up there… and even if you turn around and look backwards you see
    that there’s a… a ranch just to our east down there… and uh… I believe that
    they were… felt that they weren’t doin’ good where they were at… they had
    to abandon their tactic of trying to anchor and flank the fire and go into
    what we call point protection and that’s to move fire around the houses
    and protect structures. I believe that that’s what they were… their intent
    was… and when they moved down offa there, ya know, they’re carryin’
    40 or 50 pounds of… uh… tools, equipment… in a pack… upwards of
    70 pounds when you put a saw and a fuel and stuff on their backs…
    and they were moving down to protect this house ( points to the Boulder
    Springs Ranch ).

    ( Pause )

    That’s… That’s MY ( points to himself ) theory on it.

    Uh… like.. Uh… Jim Paxon has said… We’ll never know… uh… because
    we don’t know what 19 of the Granite Mountain Hotshots were thinking at
    that time… and there’s no confirmation radio traffic that we’re aware of.

    But they started to move down that hill in that drainage right next to the rockpile
    over here… and they started moving down… and when you have 60… say 60
    pounds on your back and you’re goin’ downhilll… ah… they… you know… it’s
    not… it’s a lot easier to go downhill… but just kinda imagine for a little bit
    having brush in that drainage… 10 foot high… and you’re walking down… the
    wind’s blowing… there’s a lot… fire activity on the other side… they’re moving
    down with their eye on that ranch to go back to protect it.

    When they got over the saddle and they got below this ridgeline of rocks here…
    the fire is totally blocked from their view. They can’t see the fire over in that
    point ( gestures to the north mouth of the canyon )… so they’ve… they’ve
    committed to go downhill at this point.

    At that point… um… that’s when things started to change dynamically with the
    weather… ya know… we had some tremendous outflows… and… uh… the…
    the… ah… basically on some fire behavior stuff that we’ve looked at the fire
    was able to come around here and in this drainage and moved up this way.

    They had committed to go downhill.
    They were committed to come downhill.

    They… they probably saw the fire in this area and then… ah… were looking for a
    place because they knew that they had fire on both sides of ’em… they had fire
    behind ’em… and now they had fire ahead of them… and so at the site that’s
    fenced behind me they began to do some work… and… ya know… the timeframe
    is really, really short… that they had to work. Ah… they carved… started cuttin’
    out a safety zone with their saws.

    And in about… ah… four forty five… somewhere in that… that range… ah… the
    fire was moving up to ’em… ah… my undestanding… the last radio transmission
    was that they were gonna burn out around them… and what that means is that
    they were gonna light a backfire around the… the circle that they had cut out for
    their safety zone… and then they deployed their shelters… uh… there ( points
    to fenced area ).

    We had nothing… other… we had no radio transmissions or anything
    else behind them.

    So the fire came around this drainage and came up this way… and… uh… for
    an hour and a half or so… and I don’t know the exact minutes on it… uh…
    Ya know… we… we lost contact with them at that point in time.

    So right in that fenced area is where they deployed… where they died.

    And… uh… that is basically the events that we know.

    There’s… there’s a lot of other things… other factors that are being considered,
    ya know, the weather and stuff like that… that’s being studied… so that we can
    really piece back together… but…

    The… the voice of what actually happened… we’ll never know.
    We’re not gonna have that information from them.

    But… uh… I can tell ya that they died with honor.

    That… uh… they stuck together.

    One of the things that… that… is… uh… very unique about this situation
    is 19 firefighters saw and felt the same way.

    They… uh… nobody cut and run the other direction.
    Nobody tried to get out of the way.
    They all deployed.
    They were a very cohesive team.

    Uhm… and… they were in a very tight deployment area.
    All of their shelters were pulled.
    …and… they all deployed at the same time.
    …and they all died… ah… in this location.


    From then… that night… uh… the… uh… Department of Public Safety… when
    the… when the… all of this was going on… you can kinda look back and the
    whole town of Yarnell is on fire during this whole situation.

    and… uh… so… we’ve got two big incidents going on. We’ve got a… a… crew
    that’s got an entrapment… and we’ve got structures to protect….

    So the incident continues on… they separate that out.
    Had an incident within an incident.

    Some of the folks within the incident began… uh… tryin’ to get aircraft in but…
    uh… the smoke was so thick… the column was so high… you couldn’t
    get aircraft in.

    Once they finally were able to get aircraft in…

    At the top of this ridge… where the two-track trail is… uh… the DPS helicopter
    was able to find a couple of… ah… two or three bladder bags or yellow bags
    that carry water… and they were left from the previous night… and so it
    kinda gave them an indication and then they were able to slip in… in under
    the… uh… smoke column… ah… they were able to confirm that the… where
    the crew was… uh… where they deployed… they dropped off a paramedic…
    confirmed that there were 19 fatalities at that point… paramedic got in his
    helicpoter and… and… uh… they moved out of the area.

    The other aspect was we… uh… had some folks back in Yarnell on ATVs and
    when this area cooled off enough they came up on ATVs… uh… three of our
    brothers from the Prescott National Forest… and actually confirmed again that
    we had lost 19 firefighters.

    And… uhm… at that point… ah… the few of us that were here that were with the
    Prescott Fire Department determined that… ah… we weren’t gonna leave these
    guys here so when it cooled off and stuff… we stayed back a little bit and… uh…
    sp… spent the night up here with them… in this vicinity.

    Ah… until the Sheriff’s investigation took place… uh… and… ah…
    The investigation was gonna happen at daybreak.
    Yavapai County Sheriff Scott Masher led that investigation.
    The Sheriff was here on site.
    Very respectul uh… uh… way that they handled it.
    In fact the Sheriff even brought 19 flags with us… with him.

    Uh… and so when they did their pictures and sketches and everything that
    they had to do… uh… about six or seven o’clock in the morning… uh… the..
    the bodies were bagged and they were lined up basically where we’re
    standing right now.

    Uh… Identi… they uh… had no identification.
    There were names… er… numbers put on the bags.

    They draped flags over the bags… and personnel from the Prescott Fire
    Department along with one Dad, Danny Parker, his son Wade was one of the
    fatalities… he’s a Chino Valley Fire Captain… he asked… called me specifically
    and asked if he could help bring his son off the mountain… and so.. ah… he
    helped us. Ah… there was a number of us that did that.

    We brought pickups in… and two at a time… took… took ’em out to the… ah…
    to the ranch house and loaded ’em up into the medical examiner’s cars.

    And… ah… ya know… that’s basically the story… ah… of what happened here.

    Uh… ya know… you can look around, you can speculate, you can say a lot of
    things… all I can say… and I don’t… I know it’s gettin’ redundant but… ah… I
    woulda… I woulda been with that crew blindfolded… they coulda led me down
    here… I woulda been with ’em… I had complete faith and confidence in their…
    the leadership… Eric Marsh… Jesse Steed, the captain… all of… ah… ya know…
    the squad bosses… very seasoned firefighters… they would’ve never taken a
    risk that they didn’t think… that… uh… ya know… It’s a risky business… but
    they don’t take undue risk… very safety conscious… and… ah… it’s just one a
    those things that happened…

    uh… ya can call it an accident… I just say…
    God had a different plan for that crew at this time.

    ( Pause. Willis has finished his narrative and now takes questions. )

    Q: Chief… ah… again… I know hindsight is 20/20… I ah… Could you comment,
    though, on… how common it is for a crew when they go into a ridge to leave a
    member as a lookout… ah… if they… when they go into a bowl like this… how
    common is that and how does that fit into just general policies of firefighters?

    Willis: They do it every day. They’re… they’re… ya know one of the things that we
    really… uh… emphasize and they emphasize is… is lookouts, communications,
    escape routes and safety zones… but there are points during that work day…
    that you don’t have that in place… uh… they had a lookout… he was on the
    other side… he had to escape… and that’s… ah… Brendan McDonahue
    ( he mispronounces McDonough’s last name as MAC-DUN-A-HUE ).

    He… ah… he had to escape.. the Blue Ridge Hotshots… they were on the
    other side of this. The Blue Ridge Hotshots picked Brendan up and he
    was able to escape or he would’ve been the 20th victim… if… if Blue Ridge
    wouldn’t a been there to pick him up. And so… we had the lookout in place…
    but there are times… when they’re out here in this environment… uh… that you
    don’t have all those standards in place… and especially with them moving
    like they were. You couldn’t leave anybody behind.

    Q: Where was Brendan from where we are now?

    Willis: From where we are… he was on the other side of this uh… ridge…
    this rocky ridge… and there’s a… another access road that goes up back in
    there and he was behind this ridge over there. So when the crew started moving
    to the south… Blue Ridge picked Brendan up and he headed out that way
    ( Willis gestures east )… so that lookout was.. in… in his… had his escape
    route… had his safety zone… he was outta there… and these guys were comin’
    around this way. They… they wouldn’t a left Brendan down there where he
    was. They made sure that he was taken care of.

    Q: And again… just… just curious about.. ah… what general policy is.
    Do Hotshots often leave a second lookout if they were to go
    somewhere where the first lookout isn’t around?

    Willis: In this environment… they wouldn’t have left anybody behind.
    They would’ve… if they would’ve left one… it woulda been two.
    They made the determination that they were coming this way to go protect that
    structure ( points to the Boulder Springs Ranch ).
    So they had completed their assignment… and were moving to another
    location… to complete that.

    Q: What time was it that… do you know… when Brendan was left behind and
    then… in relation to when the fire started running on this spot?

    Willis: I… you know… it’s sometime after four… I don’t know exactly.

    Q: It all happened after four o’clock, though? Those events?

    Willis: Yes

    Q: Chief… you mentioned something… ah… about them building a fire
    to protect themselves from the… a safety…

    ( Other official with blue shirt and blue cap steps up to Darrell Willis at
    this moment, interrupts the reporter asking the question, and audibly
    ‘whispers’ in his ear… “Their time is UP, dude”. The reporter
    who was interrupted then resumes their original question… )

    …a safety fire to protect themselves from the wildfire that was running.
    Can you talk about that… cus it’s an interesting strategy (and) very
    peculiar to wildland firefighters?

    Willis: No. It’s a… It’s a very common occurrence… and… uh… and what the
    back-firing situation was around the deployment… they didn’t have enough to
    cut… uh… uh… a larger… uh… space for a safety zone… and when you’re cutting
    that stuff you have to do stuff with it… you have to handle the brush and move it.
    You can’t just leave it on the ground because that’s not gonna do you any good…
    so they’re cutting and moving this chaparral and manzanita.. and they’re moving
    it off to the side. So to get a larger buffer and get away from the direct radiant heat
    or direct heat that’s on them… they’re lighting a fire out in that brush around them
    so when the fire hits that it gives them a buffer… it’s not a flamefront that’s actually
    getting it… do that around houses all the time to get a little buffer from the… from
    the flamefront coming in.

    Q: What gave you the in… Go ahead… sorry… we’re you still finishing?

    Willis: No, that’s fine.

    Q: What gave you the indication that they were using saws?

    Willis: That… we can tell… uh… by what’s left here… that there are… there are cut
    staubs that are still up there. We know that where they placed the saws… uh…
    that was one of the other aspects here… there were three saws that were placed
    far away from them because of the gas and stuff in it… far away from their
    deployment zone up against the brush… and along with their fuel… so that was
    away from where they deployed.

    Ya know… one other thing that I failed to mention was… we had Air Attack.
    We had an Air Attack up at that point in time, too, that… uh… ya know… you talk
    about lookouts… you don’t always depend on… on… uh… aircraft… that’s a rule…
    but it was another set of eyes that was up there that was trying to relay
    information to ’em and stuff like that.

    Q: Sir… you mentioned that… ah.. they were comin’ down likely to protect this
    structure here ( the Boulder Springs Ranch ). Was there any indication that…
    that they felt they were getting in danger as they were heading that way…
    were they going for a safety zone over here… or were they heading for the site
    to protect that structure and then they got into trouble here?

    Willis: Ya know… I… it’s all speculation at this point in time… but in my heart… I
    would know that they’re not protecting themselves… they’re gonna go… and
    they’re gonna protect that ranch. It’s very visible. I mean… we can look back and
    say… if you were standing here… and you’re a firefighter… where would you go?
    You’re gonna go there ( points to the ranch ) to protect that house.. not
    necessarily protect themselves. They protected themselves as a last resort.

    Q: Chief… they came down… I mean it all looks black right now. Is there a way
    you can tell, you know, did the fire come down there and around here at the
    same time… or how did this area get engulfed in flames?

    Willis: The fire behavior… ah… folks have said that it came around here
    ( points to mouth of canyon ).. and if ya look… uh… if ya look at that… uh…
    little swale here it’s… it basically would lead you to believe that the fire
    came up this direction and up these little drainages here.

    Q: And they wouldn’t have been able to get up that way?

    Willis: No. They couldn’t of… it… ya know… it may have taken ’em… uh…
    20 minutes to get off that… it woulda taken ’em 45 to get back up… or… or
    more… to get back up that… so once you’re committed downhill there’s really no
    way to make any time goin’ uphill. So if they had fire here and they were tryin’ to
    climb… they woulda never made it… their best option was where they deployed.

    If ya look at how this is laid out… ah… ya know… we’re talkin’ minutes when they
    made this decision. There’s a little swale here… and then that… back where they
    deployed… right in that… (points inside the fenced area ) there’s a little protection
    there. Ya know… it comes up… and I’m… I’m… there’s no doubt in my mind that
    they chose that sp… that point for a reason… because that’s gonna lift the fire off
    of them a little bit here. So you see we come up to a.. ah… kind of a little swale
    and then it dips back down. Right in the middle there… uh… where you can see
    it’s… kinda some dis… uh… lighter color… that’s where they deployed right in
    that area there… very, very tight area. So we know that… uh… ya know… Eric
    and Jesse were… were thinking about that even in the situation that they were in.

    Ya know… one other thing that I wanted to emphasize is… ya know… there’s been
    some discussion some didn’t have their shelters on… and some didn’t deploy
    their shelters… we know 19 shelters were deployed… and there’s a process
    when you deploy shelters. The leadership is the last one in those shelters.
    I don’t know what happened… some of the… some of the… uh… firefighters did
    not have their complete shelter on ’em but… but you can’t even take that into
    consideration because the heat was so intense the shelters broke down… so
    we don’t know anything about that but we do know that they all deployed their
    shelters… and that’s… ya know… something that was… that’s… uh… ya know…
    a number one thing… but the leadership… the superintendent, the captain, the
    squad bosses insured that every one of their people was in their shelter before
    they got in. That’s just policy and procedure.

    Q: Chief… how hot would it had to have been for those shelters to breakdown?
    At what temperature does that start to happen?

    Willis: I don’t know the facts on that.

    ( Pause )

    I know that after 19 years and 5 days after Storm King… this… this is when this
    occurred… Storm King situation… I know that… uh… after that event in Colorado…
    there was a new design for fire shelters… and it was based on that event.

    And so.. ya know… they had the best of equipment.

    We didn’t… we didn’t… ah… skimp on anything.

    One a those… ya know… they’re referred to as tents or whatever… fire shelters…
    they’re five hundred dollars… and we have one on each person… and… uh… ya
    know they’re the best of the best in equipment that… that money can buy.

    Q: What’s the process in… ah… setting up the escape route?
    You mentioned that Brendan McDonough had his… his route planned out.
    Is that something that’s communicated… um… back to… to supervisors that
    this is gonna be our escape route… or how does that work?

    Willis: In his case, specifically, because he had a supervisor… he was… ah…
    ya know… Eric and Jesse had made sure that they knew how they were gonna
    get him out of that situation… so that… his escape route was insured. What…
    the other aspect of it was… that when they cro… when the fire had basically
    flanked them… ah… over here… ah… they were choo… picking and choosing
    their escape route at that point in time. Due to the wind factor… they had no
    idea that they were gonna be here. They thought that they were gonna be
    movin’ north. They had no idea what was behind ’em at this point and time.

    Q: Chief… um… there’s a photo from 4:04 ( Willis: Um…humm ) that shows
    the firefigthers in the black ( Willis: Yes ). What’s the risk versus reward
    that firefighters balance when they decide to leave the black and go into
    something like this… ya know… a deep crevice. Have you… ya know…
    thought about that risk versus reward… and how typical was their decision
    to come into something deep like this leaving the black?

    Willis: I’ve thought about that a lot… and… uh… it’s… ah… ingrained in firefighter’s
    mind. Why do firefighters run into burning buildings… when it’s just property?

    It’s the same thing.

    These guys… their goal is life and property… and life… to protect that… and then
    the vegetation and historical… ya know… things… artifacts and things like that.

    So… ya know… it’s… it’s ingrained in them.

    They’re not gonna sit up there when there’s potential for people to be at risk

    Now… there’s a lotta talk about risk management. Uhm… ya know…it… the… the
    job of firefighter… wildland firefighter in particular that we’re speaking of… is
    inherently dangerous. I mean… you’re dealing with tools and fire and chain
    saws… steep rugged terrain and stuff like that. Um… they wouldn’t have done
    that if they thought they were riskin’ their life. They thought that they had the
    option… uh… to… to make it. It’s a time versus distance thing is what I’m seeing.

    It’s a judgement thing that… that crews…they’re makin’ those decisions in… ah…
    in Montana right now. There’s Hotshot crews that are doin’ that today… and that’s
    the business that they’re in.

    They were… it was a judgement that they made… and like I’d mentioned before…
    I trusted their judgement… I trust their judgement today. Uhm… it’s.. ya know…
    it’s a decision that was made at that time and they thought that was the best

    Q: Can you mention if they expected the fire to continue going north?

    Willis: Yea… I… I don’t think they recognized… er… or… ya know… I know they
    knew that the fire… there was plenty a reports… thunderstorm outflows… things
    like that… I think that. I don’t think that they… they were able… were… ah… aware
    of how quick it moved… and… ah… ya know… because we we’re seeing the
    fire movin’ 50 chains an hour… somethin’ like that… which is not… which isn’t
    uncommon in this fuel type and that changed to like four times that in a short
    period a time… and so what they were seeing during most of the day and what
    happened after… ya know… 4:30 in the afternoon or whatever was… was.. such
    extreme fire behavior that nobody expected… what… what occurred… the
    fire behavior that they would (see).

    Q: Is there a confirmation that they did receive… uh… information
    concerning the outflows from the thunderstorms?

    Willis: Yes. There is confirmation of that. There’s no question about it.

    Q: Chief… I know they only had a very short time to pick a spot to deploy their
    shelters… but can you talk about how optimal a spot this is for shelter
    deployment… um… I guess the goal is to try and get as much of a seal
    around ya as ya can?

    Willis: It was the best they had at the time.

    Uh… it… at the time… based.. ya know… on our… uh… thought that the fire was
    movin’ up this camon… canyon… it’s the best they had at the time.

    There was NO other options.
    There wasn’t an option to escape… uphill.
    This is where they had to deploy.

    Q: Yea… and I’m not… certainly not questioning… ya know… their… their
    judgement to deploy… I’m just curious as to the terrain here… ahm… in judging
    the most optim… an optimal location.

    Willis: (Enthusiastically) I think they picked the best location in this bowl.

    Uh… ya know… ya look at it and ya study it… there’s no place else that they
    could… uh… ya know… that they could go. I mean… you’re in a box canyon here.

    Q: Darrell… just give us a sense from a gut level.
    What does this spot mean to you?

    Willis: I’m… ah… (heavy sigh) sickened. I’m saddened for… ya know…
    10 widows and 13 kids. I’m saddened for 19 friends. Uh… just heartbroken about
    losin’ 19… uh… adopted sons. Uh… I’m encouraged that we can all learn from
    this… I don’t want them to have died in vain. I don’t know what those lessons
    are right now… uh… in… in my view right now I’m still lookin’ through the smoke… I… I’m not seein’ things clearly… uhm… but I know that they would want us to
    all to carry on.

    They would want the Granite Mountain Hotshots to live on and continue to
    protect property… and… uh… ya know… lives… and… not… to just… grind to
    a halt and stop this…and… uh… learn those lessons.

    And what are those lessons?

    I think… uh… ya know… it’s gonna have to be… ya know… more… ah…
    awareness… ah… on… and judgement… and… uh… ya know…

    I take it back to some very simple steps.

    If… if… the… all the communities across the western United States had a priority
    on defensible space… if they were taking care of the property… we wouldn’t
    have to put firefighters between homes. What we’re doin’ in Prescott… we’re
    tryin’ to make so that if a fire comes into Prescott you don’t need firefighters…
    it’ll lay on the ground and it’ll go around the houses… and if… ya know… we
    can’t forget that effort. That’s… that’s really important.

    Q: You mentioned that… uh… the fire started moving… I think you said four times
    faster than it had been moving? Is that anything you’ve ever seen before…
    extreme behavior like that?

    Willis: From my standpoint… this was the most extreme fire behavior
    I’d ever witnessed.

    Q: And is it something that… uh… you were trained for?
    Something changing that quickly?

    Willis: Um… yea… I mean… we always expect the unexpected.
    We… we… we always do that. Um… when you put it in perspective of thinking…
    ah… just the normal day to day logic you think… not Yarnell. Ya know… this is…
    uh… Payson or Prescott or Show Low or something like that. So to put that
    in perspective… ah… but… ah… ya know… we do train for the unexpected.

    They’ve seen fire behavior… extreme fire behavior… before.
    The Doce fire… two weeks earlier… had extreme fire behavior on it.


    • WantsToKnowTheTruth says

      CORRECTION: In the transcript above, when the official in the
      blue cap and blue shirt interrupts a reporter’s question and
      ‘whispers’ something in Willis’ ear… what he ACTUALLY says is…

      “Air Attack was up, too”.

      Willis whispers back “Right”, continues to answer reporter
      questions, and then ( at +2:20 in original second video ),
      he interrupts himself and inserts a quick report about
      “Air Attack was up, too”.

  13. Bob Powers says

    Something is very backwards here Willis Identifies a deployment site but no safety zone or escape route, No where in any training I know do you Identify a fire shelter deployment site. The site identified if used would have been another fatality site. How are these Prescott fire fighters trained? Willis also thought the GM deployment site was a good choice, are you kidding me. If he is a qualified OPSC god save us all.

    • SR says

      Agreed, reading the Prescott response that the tennis court “was, at most, a Deployment Zone” made the hair on my neck stand up.

      Their lookout came close to a burnover in what likely was a non-survivable situation, then we find out that Willis was id’ing a deployment site, too, but no safety zone? It seems in my opinion there is an organization-wide need in Prescott to reassess risk and retrain in some areas.

    • WantsToKnowTheTruth says

      The ‘tennis court’ thing isn’t the only time we see Darrell Willis
      displaying what seems to be a complete lack of understanding
      of the limits of a deployment shelter… or what does or does
      not constitute a good ‘safety zone’ or survivable ‘deployment site’.

      He also ‘demonstrated his expertise’ ( or lack thereof ) on these
      things back on July 23, 2013, during that first media event at the
      deployment site… which he hosted and narrated.

      Even while standing exactly where these men died… he
      enthusiastically defended the ‘site’ that Eric Marsh and
      Jesse Steed chose to ‘deploy’. He called it “the best place
      in the bowl” for a deployment….

      …but then, a moment later, when asked by a reporter at
      what temperature a standard issue fire shelter might
      ‘break down’ due to heat and not be able to sustain life
      he said…

      “I don’t know the answer to that”.

      Stand by and I will post the entire transcript of Willis’ speech
      that day below which includes his ‘expert (?) analysis’ of their
      deployment site and also his now infamous “God had a
      different plan for this crew” quote.

      • mike says


        Check out Wildfire Today, also a new article in the Az Republic. There is a video with the actual audio of the last GMHS radio transmissions. The times are odd, they say “we are in front of the flaming front” occurred well before 1635.

        • WantsToKnowTheTruth says

          Reply to mike post on Dec 13, 2013 at 9:18 pm

          Wow. Thanks mike… no… I hadn’t seen/heard
          that yet. Thanks for the heads up.

          Well… it’s exactly what we thought, anyway.

          It was Steed on the radio until Marsh ran up
          to his position and then comes on with the
          ‘we are deploying’ message.

          So in the last few days we discover a completely
          different set of photos being used in the WFAR
          report that apparently WERE recovered from
          one of the iPhone by ACTIC…

          …and now this new video evidence comes to light.

          What MORE is there we still haven’t seen?

          I think the dam is about to burst.

      • Bob Powers says

        No training Period 500 deg. and I’ve been out a long time but I still remember. Like I said we lost the crew to training a long time ago. Basics, I am hurting right now don’t know what else to say.

        • WantsToKnowTheTruth says

          >> Mr. Powers said…
          >> I am hurting right now don’t know
          >> what else to say.

          Then I would wait before you listen to the new
          video just released that captures that final
          sequence of radio communications.

          It’s not easy to listen to.

          It also… if the new ‘times’ are right… blows a whole
          lot of assumptions and analysis out of the water
          including any fire progression charts published
          so far.

          The new timeframe has Steed ( we can be sure
          it was him now ) making the first MAYDAY call a
          full 6 minutes earlier than reported by either the
          SAIR or ADOSH.

          6 minutes is a BIG time swing in this most
          critical part of the day. It affects everything such
          as already computed rates of travel and what
          they SHOULD have been able to ‘see’ before
          they even decided to leave the two-track road
          and drop into the canyon.

        • mike says

          I get the impression that Chief Willis had very little to do with the training of the GMHS, that job seemed to be solely the purview of Marsh. Willis really seems to be an administrator here, clearly seems to be out of his element in charge of a wildland crew. There may have been training deficiencies, not sure I would use Willis’ lack of knowledge as evidence of them. What happened with the shelters I think just reflected lack of options. Deployment was hopeless, but I think running was too. There was no time, when Marsh yells “Affirm” on the audio, it sounds like he may be getting in his shelter at that moment.

          • WantsToKnowTheTruth says

            Reply to mike post
            on December 13, 2013 at 11:01 pm

            >> mike said
            >> Willis really seems to be an administrator
            >> here, clearly seems to be out of his
            >> element in charge of a wildland crew.

            Correct. That’s why I posted the full
            transcript from his ‘speech’ at the
            deployment site. It has some ‘gems’
            in it which prove exactly what you
            have just said.

            Example: In one breath he says he is
            saddened by the loss of ’19 adopted
            sons’… and then in the next breath he
            doesn’t even know what Brendan
            McDonough’s last name is.

            He pronounces it as ‘McDunahue’.


            I had pretty typical ‘son and dad’ issues…
            but he never got my name wrong.

            Clearly… Willis was just an ‘admin’ here
            when it came to Granite Mountain.

          • WantsToKnowTheTruth says

            Reply to mike post
            on December 13, 2013 at 11:01 pm

            Followup to my last reply…

            Forgot to mention…

            I DO agree with you that Willis was just
            an ‘admin’ here and probably not directly
            involved with GM training…

            …but his JOB TITLE is/was, in fact…

            Wildland Division Chief

            …and he was ‘signing off’ on crucial
            WFF training and certification documents.

            Is/was he even qualified to have that job
            title and be signing those documents?

            Remains to be seen.

            • Bob Powers says

              exactly…..And he should have been involved in the training. As my background has seen Forest FMO’s and District FMO’s have been involved in training. Hot Shots and all crews and New Fire Fighters. Unless its beyond the New FMO’s.

  14. WantsToKnowTheTruth says

    Another fine article, John. Thank you!

    If I could, though, I would like to offer one minor correction.

    It’s a small point, but it does further address the veracity ( or lack thereof )
    of the Arizona Forestry-commissioned SAIR report.

    It has to do with whether the Superintendent of the Blue Ridge Hotshots
    ( Brian Frisby ) EVER actually thought Eric Marsh was trying to move
    to ‘some ranch to the northeast’.

    The Arizona State Forestry-commissioned SAIR wants us to believe that.
    The ADOSH actually reports no such thought on Frisby’s part.

    In your article above you said…

    :: Marsh, according to the recently released ADOSH report, provided additional
    :: details about the crew’s movement when he told Blue Ridge Superintendent
    :: Brian Frisby via radio that Granite Mountain members were “picking our way
    :: through the black” in the direction of a road “in the bottom out towards
    :: the ranch.”
    :: The place to which Marsh referred apparently was the Boulder Springs Ranch
    :: about 600 yards east of where the Granite Mountain crew wound up deploying
    :: their fire shelters.
    :: Frisby, however, understood Marsh to be saying the crew was moving along
    :: a different road where Marsh and Frisby had met earlier in the day and toward
    :: a different ranch, the ADOSH report states.

    Not true.

    At NO time in the ADOSH report do they make any mention of Brian Frisby
    thinking that Eric Marsh was referring to any sort of ‘different ranch’ or ‘another
    ranch to the northeast’.

    ADOSH does not report him having any such thought(s)… or writing anything
    like that in his own ‘Unit log’ from that day.

    It is only the SAIR that is (apparently) ‘adding that thought’ to Brian Frisby’s
    head because that fit their narrative better.

    Page 19 of ADOSH only says…

    :: Following this conversation ( the ‘discussing their options’ conversation
    :: between Marsh and Steed partially captured by Christopher MacKenzie’s
    :: video at 16:02 – 4:02 PM ) GMIHC and Marsh decided to move from their
    :: position ( the safe black ). According to BRIHC unit logs, Eric (Marsh) says,
    :: “I copy fire is progressed to the buggies, Also going to make our way
    :: through out escape route.”
    :: Brian (Frisby) asks, “Are you in good black?”
    :: Eric says, “picking our way through the black to the rd in the bottom out
    :: towards the ranch.”
    :: Brian (Frisby) thinks he meant towards the two-track. To confirm Brian
    :: says, “the rd we came on w/ the ranger… affirm”.

    The ADOSH report ONLY says that Brian Frisby’s entry into his own ‘Unit log’
    thought he meant ‘towards the two-track road’. ADOSH found no evidence
    whatsoever of Brian Frisby ever assuming Marsh meant ‘some ranch to the
    northeast’ as the SAIR would have us believe.

    The Wildland Fire Associates Report (WFAR) that was contracted by ADOSH
    and released at the same time as their report only says…

    :: At about 1550… The BRIHC Superintendent and Captain picked up GM
    :: Lookout with their UTV, and called GMIHC on the radio. GMIHC informed
    :: BRIHC Superintendent and Captain that they had good visibility, they
    :: were in the burned area and they were assessing their situation.
    :: At 1555… The BRIHC Superintendent dropped the GM Lookout off at the
    :: GMIHC Superintendents truck. The GMIHC crew carriers were moved.
    :: On the GMIHC intracrew frequency, GM Lookout heard the DIVS A and
    :: GMIHC Captain discussing the options of whether to stay in the black or
    :: to move ( as per ADOSH’s own interview with Brendan McDonough ).

    The WAFR doesn’t even mention this ‘conversation’ between Marsh
    and Frisby about ‘which road is that you are talking about?’ or whether
    anyone ever thought anything about a ‘ranch to the northeast’.

    The WAFR just gives this all a ‘clear miss’ and says nothing about it.

    It is ONLY the Arizona State Forestry’s SAIT team that somehow felt the need
    to ’embellish’ the moment and add all kinds of thoughts to Brian Frisby’s head
    about Marsh ‘heading northeast… to one of the ranchs in that direction’…
    because that fit their own narrative better.

    Here is how the SAIR described the exact same moment.

    Notice all the ’embellishments’ added that do not appear in the ADOSH report
    about this same conversation…

    Page 24 of SAIR says…

    :: As BR Supt is en route to pick up drivers to
    :: move the Granite Mountain crew carriers, SPGS1
    :: contacts him to ask if they still have the option to
    :: burn out from the dozer line. BR Supt tells him no.
    :: DIVS A, hearing the transmission, agrees and says
    :: he believes the fire is almost as far as the Granite
    :: Mountain vehicles. A moment later, DIVS A says,
    :: “I want to pass on that we’re going to make our way
    :: to our escape route.” BR Supt attempts to clarify,
    :: “You guys are in the black, correct?” DIVS A responds,
    :: “Yeah, we’re picking our way through the black.” DIVS A
    :: then mentions a road in the bottom and “going out toward
    :: the ranch.” BR Supt thinks DIVS A is talking about
    :: heading northeast, through the black, to one of the
    :: ranches in that direction. BR Supt says, “DIVS A, to
    :: confirm, you’re talking about the road you saw me on
    :: with the UTV earlier, in the bottom.” DIVS A replies,
    :: “Yes, the road I saw you on with the Ranger [the UTV]

    Also NOTE that the WFAR report is now confirming that Brendan McDonough
    did, in fact, overhear the entire ‘discussing their options’ conversation
    between Eric Marsh and Jesse Steed.

    The SAIR confirmed it… and now the WFAR report commissioned by
    ADOSH also confirms it.

    Neither report, however, says one extra word about the actual content
    of that crucial conversation… or WHY Marsh and Steed decided to leave the
    safe black and lead 17 other men to their deaths.

    Either Brendan McDonough truly doesn’t remember that part of this
    conversation he is now doubly-confirmed as ‘overhearing’… or he is truly
    refusing to say what he knows about this crucial decision.

    • fyi says

      Remember that Brendan McDonough had a run-in with the law related to dishonesty (stealing, I think). It was from a couple years before he joined the Hotshots. FYI. If I am wrong, please correct me. If you Google it, you will find it.
      My guess is that he was scared to tell the whole whole whole truth or that it was easier not to tell everything he knew about the Yarnell Hill fire situation. Just my opinion.

      • WantsToKnowTheTruth says

        Reply to fyi post on December 12, 2013 at 9:17 pm

        It was a VERY minor involvement in a NOT very
        serious offense almost 3 years ago. Basically… his
        buddy (??) decided to rip off a GPS unit from a car in a
        Wal-Mart parking lot and Brendan just happened to be
        driving the car they were both in at that time.

        I don’t know about you… but I can certainly recall
        times as a young man driving some friends around
        when some a**hole in the passenger seat decides
        to do something stupid.

        Brendan was VERY sorry about any involvement he may
        have had in the whole thing, cut off all contact with this
        ‘friend’… and that’s pretty much all there was to it.

        Personally… I don’t think that minor incident has
        ANYTHING to do with what Brendan’s reasons might
        be now for not ‘discussing some things’ related to
        what happened on June 30.

        Maybe he only remembers hearing the ‘discussing
        their options’ conversation… but really, truly doesn’t
        recall exactly what was said. I am ready to give him
        the benefit of the doubt there… until we learn more.

        The only mystery there is if Brendan really is claiming
        he “doesn’t remember the details” of that critical
        conversation… then why have none of the reports
        just gone ahead and stated that? They have certainly
        done so for other ‘witnesses’ when that was the
        claim they were making about other ‘moments’ that day.

        That’s not what we see in the reports, however.

        They BOTH confirm that Brendan heard the critical
        ‘discussing their options’ conversation between Marsh
        and Steed… and then they BOTH say NOTHING else
        about it.

        That’s just very, very strange.

        BTW: If anyone is curious about the details of this minor
        incident mentioned above… here is where that information
        was first published back in July…

  15. Rocksteady says

    2 major reports and just now we hear that a tennis court is identified as a safety/deployment site?

    I think there is a lot more of these “little details” that were not discussed in either report.

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