City of Prescott refuses to do the right thing

Yarnell Hill Fire, morning of June 30, 2013
Yarnell Hill Fire, morning of June 30, 2013. Photo by Joy Collura.

Paul Whitefield has written an editorial for the Los Angeles Times that criticizes the City of Prescott for giving full survivor benefits to the families of only 6 of the 19 members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots that died in the employ of the city while fighting the Yarnell Hill Fire on June 30.

Below is an excerpt, but you should read the entire well-written editorial.

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“…As my Times colleague Cindy Carcamo writes:

It would cost the city an estimated $51 million over the next 60 years and would mean cuts to vital services to the people of Prescott, city spokesman Peter Wertheim said Thursday in a statement.

If the city were to make a one-time lump-sum payment of $24 million, it would be three times the entire budget of the Prescott Fire Department.

Excuse me, but when exactly did Prescott, Ariz., turn into Bangladesh? Brave young men die doing dangerous work protecting public and private property, and Prescott can’t “afford” to take care of their survivors? If that’s the case, then I’d say Prescott can’t “afford” to send such folks out to fight fires either.

And about that affordability explanation: If you’re so inclined, you can visit the city’s website and check out its financial position. For 2014, the city says it has about $230 million available; it’s budgeted about $173 million for expenditures. Hmmm. Is it just me, or does it appear the city could cough up a few bucks for some widows and their kids?”

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More information about this issue is in an article we published on August 15, 2013.

 

Thanks go out to Dick

Municipal issues still linger in Prescott after Yarnell Hill Fire

Granite Mountain Hotshots hike
Granite Mountain Hotshots hike to the Yarnell Hill fire June 30, 2013. Photo by Joy Collura.

The city of Prescott is being barraged with many questions about the different levels of compensation for the families of the 19 members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots that were killed on the Yarnell Hill Fire on June 30. According to the Daily Courier, the city has hired the marketing consultant firm Up Agency for “pre-litigation strategic communications services to the City of Prescott.” The newspaper has a lengthy article that covers the financial issues, legislation being drafted to address some of the issues, and the reaction of Juliann Ashcraft, the widow of Hotshot Andrew Ashcraft.

The Daily Courier also has an article about a three-person fuels crew the city has hired that will be using grant money, some of which earlier went to fund the Granite Mountain Hotshots, to continue doing some of the fuels work in the city that the Hotshots had been conducting for years.

AZCentral has an article about the difficulty the city may face in continuing to obtain insurance coverage if they decide to rebuild the Hotshot crew. The city had been self-insured for years, but on June 1, less than a month before the fatalities, they obtained liability and workers’ compensation insurance through the Arizona Municipal Risk Retention Pool.

Interview with Brendan McDonough, Granite Mountain Hotshots survivor

The Prescott Daily Courier spent about an hour talking with Brendan McDonough, the only member of the Granite Mountain Hotshots to survive the Yarnell Hill Fire; 19 of them died on June 30 in Arizona when they were overrun by the fire.

In these two videos, each about eight minutes long, he seems to be dealing pretty well with the life-changing tragedy he is still experiencing. In them, and in the article at the Daily Courier, he provides a few more details than were previously known about the events that occurred before the entrapment. He talked about how he got to his lookout location (he was closer to the fire than the crew), his interaction with the Blue Ridge Hotshots, the warning they received about the weather changing, and moving the crew’s vehicles to a safe spot.

In the second video he said:

There was no bad decision made. No one’s at fault for what happened. And I’ll never forget that day… I was there. I know what happened. And there’s a lot of other people that were there that knew what happened — and it was just an accident. These things happen. It’s horrible that it happened, but it happened. This isn’t the first time a storm has come over and killed multiple firefighters.

The first video is about the fire. The other is more about his personal story.

In a related story, a video at Arizona Central describes the tense relationship between the families of the Granite Mountain 19 and the City of Prescott.

 

 

Thanks go out to Dick

Granite Mountain Hotshot widow Juliann Ashcraft fighting for denied benefits

The CBS Evening News on Monday ran this story about Juliann Ashcraft, the wife of one of the Granite Mountain Hotshots. She suddenly became the single mother of four children when her husband, Andrew, was killed along with 18 others from the crew June 30 on the Yarnell Hill Fire in Arizona. Even though Mr. Ashcraft worked full time, the Prescott Fire Department said his wife is not entitled to the survivor benefits usually owed to a full time firefighter.

(The video may take a while to begin. If you can’t view it, visit the CBS site.)

In 2011 Andrew Ashcraft sent us some photos he took of the Las Conchas fire in northern New Mexico.

He also sent his wife some photos of the Yarnell Hill Fire an hour or two before the crew was overrun by the fire on June 30, 2013.

 

Thanks go out to Dick

Apology issued for statements Arizona state official made about Yarnell Hill Fire

(UPDATE at 12:20 p.m. MDT, August 1, 2013)

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer said Wednesday that Arizona State Forestry Division Deputy Director Jerry Payne actually did make the statements about the cause of the fatalities that John Dougherty, of Investigative Media, reported. She said this, in spite of the vigorous denials made earlier by Payne and the department’s spokesman, Jim Paxon. Investigative Media has more details on these developments.

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The Arizona State Forestry Division has issued an apology for “unauthorized opinions made by Deputy State Forester Jerry Payne regarding the Yarnell Hill Fire fatalities”.

All but one of the 20 members of the Granite Mountain Hotshot crew were overrun by the Yarnell Hill Fire and killed on June 30 just north of Yarnell, Arizona.

At 5 p.m. Tuesday the state agency issued a news release after receiving numerous inquiries about statements attributed to Mr. Payne in an article written by John Dougherty of Investigative Media. The Deputy State Forester was quoted as listing a number of mistakes that he said the superintendent of the Granite Mountain Hotshots made on the fire, including, according to the article, violating…

… several basic wildfire rules including not knowing the location of the fire, not having a spotter observing the fire and leading his crew through thick, unburned vegetation near a wildfire.

The news release issued Tuesday by the Office of the State Forester after Mr. Dougherty’s article was published, said in part:

State Forester Scott Hunt wants to make it clear that State Forestry has taken no position on the causes of the fatalities and awaits the results of the two independent investigations that are currently being conducted by the Serious Accident Investigation Team and Arizona Department of Occupational Safety and Health.

State Forestry apologizes for Mr. Payne’s inappropriate expression of opinion as fact and unfounded speculation that prejudges the ultimate conclusion of the investigation.

Wildfire Today originally wrote about Mr. Payne’s opinions in an article earlier on Tuesday.

Our Analysis

The State Forester did the right thing by putting out an unequivocal apology right away — a smart move that will make this a one- or two-day story, rather than letting it fester for weeks or months. The publicity the apology generates may discourage others from jumping the gun, making half-assed proclamations about who was right and who was wrong before we actually know what occurred on the Yarnell Hill Fire.

With the few facts that are known at this stage about what happened on the fire, what the firefighters knew, and who made which decisions, anyone (including state or local officials or people who leave comments on Wildfire Today), is very premature in pointing fingers and casting blame — or, for that matter, saying no one is to blame. Making assumptions is irresponsible, and is not fair to the 19 deceased firefighters or those who eventually hope to benefit from lessons learned after the facts are known.

Arizona state official says Granite Mountain Hotshots made mistakes

Granite Mountain Hotshots

(UPDATE at 12:20 p.m. MDT, August 1, 2013)

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer said Wednesday that Arizona State Forestry Division Deputy Director Jerry Payne actually did make the statements about the cause of the fatalities that John Dougherty, of Investigative Media, reported. She said this, in spite of the vigorous denials made earlier by Payne and the department’s spokesman, Jim Paxon. Investigative Media has more details on these developments.

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(UPDATE at 12:15 a.m. MDT, July 31, 2013)

The Arizona State Forestry Division has issued an apology for the “unauthorized opinions” expressed by Deputy Director Jerry Payne.

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(Originally published at 12:42 p.m. MDT, July 30, 2013)

An official with the Arizona State Forestry Division told a reporter Monday that the Granite Mountain Hotshots made mistakes and violated procedures that led to the deaths of 19 members of their crew on the Yarnell Hill Fire on June 30.

John Dougherty, of Investigative Media, recently interviewed Jerry Payne, a deputy director of the Arizona State Forestry Division, who told him that Eric Marsh, the Superintendent of the hotshot crew, was serving as Division Supervisor the day of the fatal accident. One of the captains on the crew took Mr. Marsh’s place and the hotshots were assigned to Marsh’s Division.

Mr. Dougherty wrote that the deputy director told him that while the hotshot crew was hiking from the black, or burned area of the fire toward the ranch house:

…it appears that Marsh violated several basic wildfire rules including not knowing the location of the fire, not having a spotter observing the fire and leading his crew through thick, unburned vegetation near a wildfire. “The division supervisor broke those rules and put those people at risk.”

The crew became entrapped by the fire and died while they were still 1,900 feet away from the safety zone at the ranch house.

Mr. Payne also said, according to Mr. Dougherty:

The lawsuits are going to start. The sharks are circling.

You can read the entire article at Investigative Media.

Our analysis

It is surprising that key officials are making statements such as the ones above by the state and the opinions expressed earlier this month by Chief Willis of Prescott Fire Department. After most serious accidents or fatalities on wildland fires, individuals wait until the official investigation report is released — and even then may be very reluctant to talk about the incident. It could cause a person to wonder what motivated Mr. Willis and Mr. Payne to be so vocal.