Arizona: Oak Tree Fire

Oak Tree Fire

In the 24 hours since it started on May 20, the Oak Tree Fire has burned about 2,000 acres on the Coronado National Forest and BLM land near State Highway 83 about 10 miles north of Sonoita, Arizona.

Oak Tree Fire

Fire managers have provided a copious amount information on InciWeb, and quickly. Here is an excerpt, updated this morning, May 21:


“Air attack flew the fire this morning and reported minimal fire activity, however fire activity is expected to increase throughout the day as temperatures warm and winds increase. SW winds may increase to 15-20 mph with gusts to 35 mph this afternoon. Fire managers plan to fly a reconnaissance mission this morning and will be mapping the fire by GPS to provide a better size estimate. Ten additional fire engines from across Southeast Arizona arrived this morning. Two additional handcrews have been ordered and are expected to arrive mid-day today. Firefighters plan to take advantage of increased relative humidity and lighter winds this morning to build on yesterday’s progress. They plan to finish constructing fireline around the fire, focusing on a remaining section to be completed on the northeast flank of the fire. They will continue to monitor, hold, and strengthen fireline throughout the day. Air tankers and helicopters are available to drop water and retardant as needed to cool hotspots and slow the fire’s spread.

Current resources include two handcrews (two additional crews have been ordered and are expected to arrive mid-day), eighteen fire engines, four water tenders, one air attack platform, five air tankers, two helicopters and miscellaneous overhead, for a total of more than 100 people assigned.”

Oak Tree Fire Oak Tree Fire

The first three photos were provided by the Sonoita-Elgin Fire District. The bottom aerial shot is from InciWeb.


Father used phone app to track his son on Yarnell Hill Fire

In researching another story indirectly related to the deaths of the 19 members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots June 30, 2013 on the Yarnell Hill Fire near Prescott, Arizona, I ran across an interesting article about how a father tracked his son who was one of the 19.

Using a smart phone application called “Find My Friends”, Joe Woyjeck who works for the Los Angeles County Fire Department, could see the location of his son, Kevin Woyjeck, when he went on fires across the West with the Hotshot crew.

Below is an excerpt from the article at AZCentral, published June 28, 2014:


“…In mid-June, Joe tracked his son as the Granite Mountain crew headed to Jemez Springs, N.M., for the Thompson Ridge fire. He knew when Kevin was done and headed back to Arizona. “I could track him on the road,” Joe said.

The Granite Mountain crew stayed around Prescott the next few weeks, fighting the Doce and West Spruce fires. Then, they were sent about 30 miles southeast to battle a fire initially sparked by a lightning strike on a hill.

On the morning of June 30, Joe Woyjeck was playing with his dog in the front yard of his Southern California home.

He clicked on his phone. An icon representing his son popped up on a map. The phone said he was somewhere outside the community of Yarnell.

Later on, Joe would regret that he didn’t save a screen shot of that map. But at that moment, he didn’t know he would have a reason to do so. He was just taking a peek, as the two always did.

It would be hours later that Joe’s phone would ring. It was his other son, Bobby. He had heard bad news from a friend of his, who was a firefighter in Arizona. Something bad had happened in Yarnell.

Joe made a call to the Prescott Fire Department. “I’m sure they were getting overwhelmed,” he said. He got through to a woman who told him she couldn’t say anything. Joe pressed her. “Was there a burn-over?” he asked. She said yes. Joe said that was all he needed to know.

Joe tried calling his son. But got no response.

He then tried the “Find My Friends” program. Nothing showed.


Sometime that evening, the fire chief and a fire captain from the Orange County Fire Authority came to the door. Joe didn’t know either man. But he knew what they were there to say.

He was in shock but said he was able to use his professional experience to temporarily distance himself from the situation. He opened the door and saw the two men in their dress uniforms.

He told them who he was and said, “Confirmed?”

One man said, “Confirmed.” Joe shook both men’s hands.


He read reports that said commanders were not sure where the Granite Mountain crew was. He thinks of that June 2013 morning and how he so easily could look at his phone and see his son’s location.

“It’s really hard for me to understand how they didn’t know where the crews were at,” he said, “when I’m playing with my dog on my front lawn and I know where my son is, all the way in Southern California.”

The Fire Department would later send Joe his son’s belongings, including the burned remnants of his phone.”


Yarnell Hill Fire survivor to be deposed

Brendan McDonough

Brendan McDonough. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

The Republic is reporting that the only survivor of the Granite Mountain Hotshots will be questioned under oath later this month. This will be the first time that Brendan McDonough, who was serving as a lookout when the other 19 members of the crew were entrapped by fire and killed in 2013, will undergo a sworn deposition.

The testimony may provide more information about why the crew left the safety of a previously burned area on the Yarnell Hill Fire and walked through unburned brush where they were overrun by the fire. The deposition is scheduled for 9 a.m. May 28 at a Phoenix law office.

As we wrote on April 4, an article in the April 3 edition of the Arizona Republic included information that was previously unknown to the public. The publication reported that Mr. McDonough who was serving as a lookout away from the crew during the tragedy, overheard a radio conversation between the Division Supervisor, Eric Marsh, and Jesse Steed who was temporarily serving as the Hotshots’ crew boss. Supposedly Mr. Marsh who normally was the Crew Boss or Superintendent of the crew, told Mr. Steed to have the crew leave the safety zone and to join him at a ranch.


Wildfire briefing, May 8, 2015

Fighting wildfires from the air — Is it cost effective?

An article at KCRA in Sacramento raises the question about the effectiveness of using aircraft to fight fires, and mentions a study being conducted that is collecting data that may help provide answers.

Firefighters on Coronado National Forest prepare for the fire season

Nogales International profiles two 10-person hand crews on the Nogales National Forest in Arizona, that when combined form the only 20-person crew on the Forest.

California drought kills 12 million trees

Below is an excerpt from an article in The Guardian:

An astonishing 12.5m trees have died in California, unable to survive a harsh fourth year of drought, according to a US government study. The news of the massive tree die-offs came this week, after the United States Forest Service, a Department of Agriculture agency, released the results of an aerial survey it undertook in April over 8.2m acres of forest. The survey was organized three months ahead of schedule.

“The special early season aerial survey was prompted by knowledge of the worsening drought situation and reports from field crews that copious amounts of new mortality had appeared after the regular survey was flown in July of 2014,” explained Jeffrey Moore, a biologist with the agency who was one of the surveyors on the expedition…

Another copy of the May 5 Drought Monitor that we posted earlier today:

Drought Monitor May 5, 2015


Two Yarnell lawsuits dismissed

Yarnell Hill Fire

The Yarnell Hill Fire burns into Yarnell, Arizona in 2013. Photo by Joy Collura.

A Maricopa County Superior Court judge on Wednesday dismissed two lawsuits filed against the state of Arizona by residents of Yarnell whose homes burned in the 2013 fire that killed 19 members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots.

The judge decided that the state did not have a duty to protect the property when it undertook management of the fire. The homeowners plan to appeal.

The 8,400-acre fire destroyed 127 residences in the Yarnell area.


Yarnell Hill Fire survivor gets book deal

Brendan McDonough

Brendan McDonough speaks at the memorial service for his 19 fellow crewmembers killed on the Yarnell Hill Fire. Photo by Bill Gabbert, July 9, 2013.

The only survivor of the Granite Mountain Hotshots’ tragedy during the 2013 Yarnell Hill Fire in Arizona has signed a book deal with a best-selling author. Brendan McDonough was serving as a lookout when the other 19 members of his crew were entrapped by the fire and killed.

Publisher’s Marketplace provides this teaser about the book:

Firefighter Brendan McDonough with NYT bestselling author Stephan Talty. The untold story from the lone survivor of the Yarnell Hill Fire.

Below is an excerpt from an article at the Arizona Republic:

A Prescott wildfire lookout who lived through the deadly Yarnell Hill blaze of 2013 signed a book deal at about the same time his sworn testimony was canceled based on concerns from his therapist that a deposition would jeopardize his treatment for post-traumatic stress.

Former Granite Mountain Hotshots member Brendan McDonough has been working with best-selling author Stephan Talty to produce a book that, according to online promotional materials, will reveal “the untold story from the lone survivor of the Yarnell Hill Fire.”

McDonough, who has retained a private attorney and an agent, barely escaped flames that killed 19 fellow hotshots June 30, 2013. Reached by phone Monday, he declined to explain why his treatment precluded sworn testimony but did not prevent participation in a book. He referred calls to his legal representative and his agent.

In an interview last week, Los Angeles-based agent Steve Fisher confirmed that a book is in the offing…