(UPDATE at 10:20 a.m. MDT, July 16, 2013)
The Arizona State Forestry Division has issued a report that summarizes information about some of the major events and the firefighting resources that were deployed for the Yarnell Hill Fire. This new document corrects some of the information reported by the Associated Press below.
(UPDATE at 10:15 a.m. MDT, July 13, 2013)
We checked with Rick Hatton, CEO of 10 Tanker Air Carrier, the company that operates the two DC-10 air tankers, about the use of their aircraft on the Yarnell Hill Fire. Mr. Hatton said each of their two DC-10s, which carry 11,600 gallons, made five drops on the fire. Throughout the day on Sunday June 30, the day of the tragedy, they made a total of eight drops, and then made two more on July 1.
(Originally published at 8:20 p.m. July 12, 2013)
The Associated Press is reporting that a request for six “heavy” air tankers was placed about 50 minutes before the Granite Mountain Hotshots became entrapped and deployed their fire shelters on the Yarnell Hill Fire. However the request was never filled, and was classified as Unable to Fill, or UTF. There were only 12 heavy air tankers on duty June 30 in the lower 48 states and none were available to respond to the fatal fire near southwest of Prescott, Arizona.
The Granite Mountain Hotshots lost 19 of their 20 crewpersons that day when a passing thunderstorm caused the wind to change direction by 180 degrees and increase in speed, gusting to over 40 mph. In winds that strong it is unlikely that any aircraft could operate safely 200 feet above the ground or effectively drop a liquid that would accurately hit the intended target.
The last retardant drops before the fatal entrapment were made at 12:30 and 1 p.m. by P2V air tankers which carry a maximum of 2,082 gallons. After that the air tankers went back to another fire they had been working in northern Arizona. According to the AP, earlier the two DC-10 very large air tankers had been requested which drop 11,600 gallons each, but they were not available. The AP also said, “Only a spotter plane was in the air when the Prescott, Ariz.-based Granite Mountain Hotshots died. The state’s fleet of small single-engine retardant-dropping planes was grounded in Prescott because of the weather, and no helicopters or heavy tankers were available.”
In 2002 there were 44 large or heavy air tankers on exclusive use contracts. Today there are 9. The day the 19 Hotshots died, four military MAFFS air tankers had been activated days earllier, but of those potential 13 air tankers, some of them would have been on their day off. And some, or all of those on duty, would have been actively working other fires. There were 50 uncontained large fires in the United States that day. If they all needed air tankers, which is not likely, each of the 12 that were on duty (according to the AP) would have to be shared by 4 large fires.
In 2012 about half the requests for air tankers could not be filled according to data from the National Interagency Fire Center. Of the 914 requests, 438 were rejected as “unable to fill” (UTF), meaning no air tankers were available to respond to the fire; 67 were cancelled for various reasons.