Two former Interagency Hotshot Crew supervisors have published a research paper on the Yarnell Hill Fire disaster that concludes human errors were the primary factors that lead to the death of 19 members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots on June 30, 2013.
“Did they all perish in a predictable, and therefore, avoidable death-by-fire incident? Indeed, per the conclusion of these authors, they did,” Fred Schoeffler and Lance Honda state in the paper.
Their conclusion directly contradicts the findings of the Serious Accident Investigation Team that was contracted by the state of Arizona to review the incident. The SAIT concluded that there was “no indication of negligence, reckless actions, or violations of policy or protocol.”
Mr. Schoeffler was superintendent of the Payson Interagency Hotshot Crew for 27 years. He is suing the U.S. Forest Service for air-to-ground voice recordings and transcripts from the afternoon of June 30 in the moments leading up to the deaths of 19 out of 20 members of the crew.
Mr. Honda retired as a wildland firefighter in 2009 with 39 years experience including the last 12 years as superintendent of the Prineville (Ore.) Interagency Hotshot Crew.
The paper, entitled “Epic Human Failure on June 30, 2013“, was published by Springer International Publishing AG. The authors state that the crew’s leadership failed to follow well-known wildfire safety rules and that directly contributed to disaster.
“Almost every WFF (wildland firefighter) agrees that the (Yarnell Hill Fire) tragedy would have been impossible for 19 men to have died accordingly had they held to these tried-and-true WFF Rules,” the authors state.
The authors also state that Granite Mountain’s history of poor decisions was well known to other Interagency Hotshot Crews and that the disaster, horrific as it was, was not a surprising outcome.
“This was the final, fatal link, in a long chain of bad decisions with good outcomes, we saw this coming for years,” the paper quotes an unnamed Hotshot crew superintendent as saying during an October 2013 visit by wildland firefighters to the box canyon where the men died. Mr. Schoeffler was at the gathering.
“About 8 other Hot Shot Superintendents spoke and stated they had all attempted unsuccessfully over the years through peer pressure to get the (Granite Mountain Hotshots) to alter their unsafe actions,” the paper states.