Report issued about resources deployed on Yarnell Hill Fire

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 on which 19 members of the Granite Mountain Hotshot crew were killed.

A very quick summary:  according to the report, 24 hours after the Yarnell Hill Fire was reported, it had burned only 6 acres — 23 hours after that 19 firefighters were dead. It seems too unlikely to believe.

Below are some highlights of the report, but you can read the entire report HERE.

Friday, June 28, 2013

The fire, caused by lightning, was reported at 5:40 p.m. The Yarnell Volunteer Fire Department responded, but they were not sure they could access it. The fire was not staffed at night for safety and lack of access reasons. The last reported size that day was one acre. Air Attack flew over the fire but there was no mention of any helicopters or air tankers being used.  There were multiple lightning-caused fires in that part of the state.

A spot weather forecast from the National Weather Service predicted for Saturday, hot (102-104 degrees), dry (10-11% relative humidity), winds light (W-SW 6-10 gusts to 14 m.p.h.), very little relative humidity recovery at night, and the possibility of high based showers or thunderstorms with a slight chance of moisture. If thunderstorms developed, the fire area could experience gusty winds.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Six firefighters were flown in to the fire and began work. They estimated the fire had burned two to four acres.

State Forestry hand crews staged in Yarnell. The Single Engine Air Tanker base in Wickenburg 18 miles from the fire was activated and SEATS worked the fire. A spot weather forecast called for dry (11% relative humidity), hot (105 degrees) light winds (6-7 m.p.h.), and a slight chance of thunderstorms with very little chance of moisture.

By 5:30 p.m. there were 13 firefighters working on the fire and six acres had burned. The I.C. requested a heavy helitanker and a fixed wing heavy air tanker to assist with a slopover. A helitanker was in Prescott, but was unable to respond due to a thunderstorm and high winds in Prescott. The nearest available heavy air tanker was in Albuquerque, but was also unable to respond due to weather conditions. Later, a DC-10 very large airtanker (VLAT) was in Albuquerque and available, but was not ordered due to Air Attack’s concern about effectiveness in steep terrain and inability to deliver retardant before cut-off time, due to darkness.

At 7:38 p.m. the size was estimated at 100 acres and the fire was slowly moving north. It was one mile from structures in Peeples Valley and 2.5 miles from Yarnell.

On Saturday SEATs delivered 15 loads for a total of 7,430 gallons of retardant on Saturday — no larger air tankers were used.

For the next day, Sunday, the Incident Commander ordered 14 engines, 3 hot shot crews, 2 Type 2 crews, 2 dozers, 3 heavy air tankers, 4 SEATs, 2 heavy helicopters, 2 medium helicopters, 2 light helicopters, and a lead plane. The fire was competing with other fires for resources. The IC also ordered part of a Type 2 Incident Management Team, a “short team”, for Sunday.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Individual operational overhead resources from the Type 2 IMTeam began arriving on scene as early as 6:00 a.m. and immediately began working with the Type 4 IC.

The Granite Mountain Hotshots arrived at approximately 8:00 a.m. and began work after an operational, weather and safety briefing.

The Southwest Coordination Center (SWCC) advised the Arizona Dispatch Center that competition existed from other fires for air tankers. The SWCC launched two heavy air tankers and suggested the State could order a very large airtanker (VLAT). One VLAT was ordered at 8:54 a.m.

The Blue Ridge Hotshots arrived at approximately 9:00 a.m., received a briefing and began working the fire, which was active on the northeast side and moving toward structures in Peeples Valley.

Two SEATs began working the fire at approximately 9:00 a.m., making multiple retardant drops on the fire. Two additional SEATs were ordered from Tucson and Show Low and worked the fire later in the day. Two heavy helicopters, two medium helicopters, and two light helicopters were ordered and confirmed. The heavy helicopter came from Show Low and arrived over the fire late in the afternoon.

At 9:40 a.m. two heavy air tankers ordered for the Yarnell Hill Fire were diverted to the Dean Peak Fire near Kingman by the SWCC.

[Note from Bill: The report does not mention it, but  at 9:45 a.m. another spot weather forecast was issued. According to the information at the top of the forecast, it was requested at 9:39 a.m. MST and produced six minutes later, a remarkably short turnaround. It predicted 100 to 103 degrees, relative humidity of 11 to 15 percent, and east winds around 5 mph becoming southwest with gusts up to 20 mph in the afternoon. It also mentioned isolated thunderstorm activity which “will produce lightning and strong and gusty winds but little or no measurable precipitation”. It is odd that the report quoted from spot forecasts on Friday and Saturday, but did not mention the one on the day of the tragedy.]

Command of the fire transferred from the Type 4 Incident Commander to the short Type 2 IMTeam at 10:21 a.m.

At 11:38 a.m. the IC ordered the second VLAT, another DC-10. Two more heavy air tankers were ordered at 12:24 p.m. but only one was dispatched — the order for the other was unable to be filled (UTF).

By noon fire activity had increased substantially and about 1,000 acres had burned.

SWCC diverted two heavy airtankers back to the Yarnell Hill Fire from the Dean Peak Fire at approximately 12:30 p.m. Both air tankers continued to work the Yarnell Hill Fire and made multiple retardant drops each.

At 2:02 p.m. the Fire Behavior Analyst (FBAN) at the Yarnell Hill Fire received a weather alert from the National Weather Service (NWS) notifying them of the chance of thunderstorm activity on the fire’s east side with downdrafts of 30+ m.p.h. This information was relayed to the Operations Section Chief by radio and then to the Division Supervisors. Receipt of the information was confirmed by the Division Supervisors.

The Arizona Dispatch Center ordered a Southwest Area Type 1 Interagency Incident Management Team at 2:13 p.m.

At 3:26 p.m. the FBAN received another weather alert from the NWS about outflow winds from a thunderstorm moving from the northeast to the southwest with very high winds of 40 to 50+ m.p.h. The information was passed on to the Operations Section Chief and to each Division Supervisor by radio. Receipt of the information was confirmed by the Division Supervisors.

After 4 p.m. the fire’s intensity and rate of spread increased and the direction of spread reversed, now moving rapidly toward the southeast. Air Attack ordered six additional heavy airtankers at 4:03 p.m. The SWCC was unable to fill five of these air tanker requests. A request for one heavy airtanker was filled out of Southern California (South Ops). Extensive thunderstorm activity grounded air tankers and helicopters around Prescott.

At 4:10 p.m. mandatory evacuations were ordered for Yarnell and Glen Ilah.

At 4:47 p.m. the IC and the Arizona Dispatch Center received notice from Air Attack that shelters had been deployed. The number and exact location was not known. There were reports of heavy smoke and extreme fire behavior. The DPS helicopter and other ground units were standing by for rescue and medical assistance. Multiple structures burned in Yarnell.

At 6:35 p.m. a DPS EMT on the ground confirmed there had been 19 fatalities.

The fire jumped Highway 89 at 6:39 p.m.

Air tanker operations finished for the day at 7:48 p.m. A total of 47 retardant drops were made by SEATs for 31,300 gallons. Heavy air tankers made 16 drops of 28,875 gallons, and the two VLATs made five drops for 55,522 gallons. A total of 115,697 gallons of retardant were delivered on the fire that day.

Monday, July 1, 2013

There was very little fire growth on Monday and no additional structures burned. The Type 1 IMTeam assumed command at 6 p.m. There were 448 personnel assigned.

VLATs made two retardant drops and two were made by heavy air tankers. SEATS made 47 drops. A total of 43,665 gallons of retardant were delivered Monday.

Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire. Google+

29 thoughts on “Report issued about resources deployed on Yarnell Hill Fire”

  1. If all of the “facts” noted are true, its starting to point some fingers… Still extremely sad event…

  2. I spent the last couple of days reading the AAR for the Dude Fire. Everyone who got in a shelter, and stayed in it, survived. (The fire made three passes, and some of the firefighters got out after the first pass.) They all deployed on a jeep trail. I am wondering if the reason for the Yarnell fatalities is that rather than be affected by radiant heat as at Dude, the low-lying brush allowed the flames direct access to the shelters, thus causing material structural failure …

    Dude extended AAR: http://www.fireleadership.gov/toolbox/staffride/downloads/lsr11/lsr11_Dude%20Fire_Mike_Johns_2009.pdf

    Summary AAR: http://www.fireleadership.gov/toolbox/staffride/downloads/lsr11/lsr11_info_summary.pdf

    1. Staff rides are a concept I am familiar with from the Army. Are they something fire professionals have continued since the Dude staff ride in 1999?

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EaV5WKgKVH0

      12:00 : “There was information out there and not getting to people should be a hint that then don’t send them out there. Put a road block down at the hill and let this place go.”

      Dave LaTour, the Perryville Crew Superintendent, speaks from 16:50 to 25:30.

  3. So who notified the crew superintendent of the incoming powerful thunderstorm, and when did this notification happen?

    1. We will have to wait until the investigation team completes their report, and then for it to be released to discover the answer to detailed questions like that. This information that the Arizona State Forestry Division just issued is independent of the official investigation.

  4. it is a terrible tragedy, a horrible time for these families. Don’t everybody get excited to play the “blame” game, as we all know the government won’t allow any fingers to point at themselves, ever. With one death, everyone kinda just says, well, that is one death. With 19?? The government is so very good at hiding what they don’t want out there. We may never truly know what/why this happened.

    1. Lynette – I don’t know what your wildland fire background is, or how many entrapment/burnover investigations you have been a part of? I’ve been involved in 20-25 fatal & non-fatal investigations over the past 20+ years, and find your comments to be without basis in most Investigations. Rather than throw out vague generalities that cast doubts about the professional credibility of those of us that do these events, give us some specifics that you have FIRST HAND knowledge of that back up your allegations. I know and have the upmost respect for at least one of the individuals on the Yarnell Investigation Team, and your comments are an insult to his professionalism and integrity!

      1. Greetings, Dick. Long time.
        It isn’t necessary to impugn the integrity or professionalism of fire investigators in order for Lynette to be critical and disrespectful of the use (or disuse, or misuse) of your reports made by self-protective bureaucracies and self-serving political actors. I don’t think her comments did.

        I don’t intend to do that, but I am pretty much unimpressed by the response of agency management and organizational “leadership” to fireline tragedies and investigation reports during the 43 years of my field exposure to federal, state, and private wildfire safety and operations.

        10 Orders. ICS. It seems to me that pretty much everything else — while unquestionably useful in many cases — ultimately boils down to new ways of spinning the employer’s responsibility for workplace safety away from the employer and onto the shoulders of shovel operators and their immediate supervisors. All other meaningful safety improvements have come from motivated individuals determined to develop a safer fire work culture pushing *against* the general stasis and self-protective instincts of mediocracies (i.e. Lynette’s “government”, the way I hear it). Maybe one other meaningful change is that no longer do all of these individuals see their careers stop at the moment they first push back. That’s good.

        I believe that the full responsibility (or “cause” or “blame” as one chooses) for most serious fireline mishaps lies far from the incident scene — where senior managers and politicians choose to allow, or encourage, or reward, or require unjustified risk in the conduct of fire operations. Your fire investigations rarely point very far in this direction. When they do, the point is soon painted over by time, or by the hue and cry over some “Watch Out” weakly grasped or Monday morning quarterbacking of a Fire Order. The investigation team can’t control that, but it is Lynette’s “government” at work.

        At the other end of the scale, while I assign responsibility for most bad outcomes to employers, I also believe that the individual at risk — at every level of expertise and authority — will possess some opportunity to act in their own defense. *If* they know what to observe, how to interpret, and how to act. While the individual firefighter is almost never responsible for their own demise, I believe that every one of us has some power to change outcomes, and that every firefighter is observing, interpreting, and acting just as effectively as they know how. When that’s not good enough is where your conventional investigation report really has a job to do for the rest of us — teaching what was observed and what missed, how was it interpreted and how wrongly, what acts taken and what might have worked better. Unfortunately, a formal investigation typically can’t really take us down those paths because they involves facts not known, speculations untestable, and implications legal. It also may play quite unkind. So the bulk of the work is left for sand tables and informal tailgate sessions — it’s something, but a it seems a pretty uneven process to me.

        Frankly, I no longer expect to see a lot of change for the better in wildland fire safety during my lifetime. It could get worse. In 1994, I determined to leave the mourning band on my badge until I saw the Forest Service learn lessons and make meaningful change. It was there when I retired in 2003. Its place is still there. I’ve seen people learn, and people change, and people forget. The agency? Nah. Lynette’s “government”? That’s it. “We may never truly know what/why this happened”? Seems entirely plausible.

        Press on. Make me wrong. Please.

        1. Tyler, I respectfully disagree. With my 25 years of experience, mostly local level, but some exposure to state and federal level in the summers, I see an increased level of emphasis on learning from the mistakes of the past. Most of this growth has been in the past 10 years. I know that some of the things I saw in 2002 on a fire with a deployement on the division I was working in have changed significantly. I have seen Type 2 and 3 IC’s claim responsibility for near misses, and apologize for not providing the information to allow line people to avoid those situations.

          To jump to conclusions is insulting, whether or not that is the intention. To me, to expect to see any conclusions within this fire season is impatient. And I think that’s the biggest cause of distrust. People don’t see results immediately, and then when information is released, they don’t hear or see it.

  5. First of all, Thank you so much Bill for all you do for all of “us”=very diversified group of people with a common goal=SAFETY- and in that lies accountability and therefor vulnerability.
    Second- I think the answer to Joseph Hayes’ question will answer everyone’s question about Yarnell Hill Fire. Who,when why?
    Sincerely, Bill Kelly

  6. Lynette, it’s neither accurate nor appropriate to do the ‘the government, they …” routine. Human beings are involved and let’s give them that much credit.

    1. I’d add that past investigations have been directly responsible for both acknowledging what went wrong and implementing changes to try to avoid the same recurring in the future. Let the investigators do their job to the best of their ability.

  7. I just had a lengthy, fascinating, and quite satisfying conversation with Sean Holstege, the reporter for the ‘Arizona Republic’, who wrote the article above. He is honest, ethical, and an ‘old school’ journalist who has plenty of experience reporting on all types of fires. It is my opinion, after speaking with him, that he is very capable of reporting the ongoing story of the Yarnell Hill Fire in a fair and balanced manner.

    I called him to thank him for the articles that he has already written and I get the sense that he strives for accuracy while vigorously digging for the truth. He monitors this website and considers it a valuable resource.. It was refreshing to talk with a journalist who focuses on getting the story right rather than spinning it in another direction.

    He is easily approachable and is interested in seeking credible sources who may help shed light on the events that unfolded on the Yarnell Hill Fire, but more importantly he is motivated, as a journalist, to help solve the problems plaguing our Western forests. If you can help him out with his quest I certainly urge you to do so.

    And for the record I should state that before our conversation early this afternoon I had never spoken to him before. Regardless of any of our political beliefs, I happen to be conservative, we can all agree that the truth should always be the beacon we march toward. For it is the truth, supported by facts, that we all have in common.. Those of us who want to see real improvements in our forests should consider Sean Holstege an ally.

  8. I am looking forward to the final investigative report on the Yarnell Hill Fire and I believe the investigators will be thorough, professional, and dedicated to uncovering what happened out there and how it resulted in the death of 19 firefighters. I was a USFS/NPS firefighter for four years, including seasons on engines, helitack, and as a hotshot. I was involved in a major middle-of-the-night blowup that could easily have cost me and the other hotshots our lives as we slept, if our superintendent hadn’t been keeping well informed of the fire and weather behavior. We got out in time, but just barely. So I know how critical situational awareness can be. I don’t presume to know what happened on Yarnell Hill but I do know it’s important to find and reveal the unvarnished truth about how and why these hotshots died, so that any problems can be identified and corrected. Fires are going to be getting bigger, hotter, and more numerous. Let’s please learn lessons from this fire and make all necessary changes to make it safer for those who do the dirty and dangerous work. I extend my respect to the members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots and offer my sincere sympathies to their surviving member and to all the family members. Per aspera ad astra.

  9. let me clarify.
    I speak of one instance, and a sad and painful one it is.

    Caleb Nathanael Hamm, my son. LODD 7/7/11. You will see him mentioned on the wildland refresher for HRI’s. But go further than that. Read the SAIR. Go walk that ravine, that area. You will see for yourself it isn’t plausible. But will anyone, and believe me, i have literally begged Juan Palma, and everyone else, to walk that with me. NO ONE WILL, and why won’t they?? They know they will be proved wrong.
    And, I am in possession of the myriad of their little “interoffice” memos to each other (thru the FOIA), one going as far as to ridicule my family for choosing to have a “celebration” of life ceremony for Caleb, instead of calling it a funeral. I have seen all of their little dirty emails condemning me and my family for wanting answers.

    So, I will give you this–I can’t speak for all, but I can speak of what I know. And that is this–they left my son alone, and not just for the “3 minutes” they speak of in that report. All can be proved by walking that ravine and area, of which NO ONE will come with me and do.

    I remain always watchful, hoping and praying another firefighter doesn’t succomb as my son did. There will be more and more HRI’s, simply because of the weather conditions. Read Dr. Thomas Hales comments (of the CDC), about my son’s case, and HRI’s. Even the military backs off when conditions are extreme. But we continue to put our firefighters in harm’s way.
    getting off my soapbox now.
    Don’t speak to me if you don’t have your facts in front of you…….

  10. Lynnette, I suspect you are correct, and were/are being avoided. I am sorry that happened. To me that’s unconscionable. I see Bill had posted an article a year ago.

    I am also sorry for your loss. I still hurt from the loss of my grandson, the year before Caleb’s death. There is nothing anyone else can say to make that hurt any less.

  11. Thank you for the comments.

    Gordie, you are so right. Nothing helps. It has made it all the worse knowing I am ignored by Utah BLM, Juan Palma, Sally Jewell’s office (which i Fed-ex’d documents, but they say never received, of course!) and even NIFC here in Boise, just because I want the truth.

    What parent wouldn’t want to know the circumstances of their childs death–and these families/parents in Arizona will be no different than I am, and will want to know.

    “lessons learned” are great, and we want that as a parent so no one else has to endure this nightmare, but at 2 a.m., when no one else is around, those “lessons learned” don’t really comfort us.

  12. Lynnette,
    I am very sorry about the loss of your son, Caleb. Your pain and sorrow must be very great. I read the SAIR and learned more about what happened that day. I’m sad that you are being treated badly. Please accept my sincere sympathies.

  13. thank you.

    The focus now should be on those families that have suffered and lost so much. All I was trying to say is sometimes there isn’t a neat and clean outcome. I hope and pray there will be for these families who are just beginning their grief journey.

  14. Many years ago, when I was first working as a Division Group Supervisor, I sat up late into the night with the Operations Chief on a vegetation fire in Northern California. We were several days in to this fire, where early in the fire a resident had died after driving in to the fire when trying to evacuate the area. The Operations Chief, a chief with many decades of experience with Cal Fire, said that in his home unit, he would question sending firefighters in to some areas to suppress fires. In the event of a serious medial emergency, there was no practical way that he could get his firefighters out of the area to receive prompt medical attention { no roads, steep terrain, tall trees}. He said that at a minimum, every one of his firefighters carried a sharp tool and could easily receive a severe laceration in addition to a wide variety of other medical emergencies while working in these inaccessible areas. His words have stayed with me, resonated me and guided me. We must be safer out there and take better care of one another.

    If you read the SAI of Caleb Hamm’s death, we failed him by having him go in to harm’s way and not be able to support him and care for him before, during and after his medical emergency.

    1. Stay together! Do NOT leave a fellow firefighter ALONE. {This was critical. Caleb needed someone by his side when his critical medical event started. If nothing else to know what was happening, to support him, keep him awake if possible, start to cool him, keep his airway open, etc}. If so, Caleb might be with us today! Certainly, it did no good by leaving him alone.

    2. Once any of us begins to have a medial emergency, we REQUIRE rapid response and arrival at OUR SIDE of a competent and trained Advanced Life Support Team within minutes. Caleb’s lips were blue, he needed supplemental oxygen, an advanced airway, and respiratory support ON THE FIRELINE in that steep canyon.

    3. If there was no way to take care of the workers on this fire and constantly monitor their health and wellness, we should not have sent them in to harms way.

    4. If Caleb wasn’t all ready dead on the fireline, the methods used to get Caleb to the ambulance certainly ensured that Caleb wasn’t going to survive his critical medical event on the fireline. Once you start BLS / ALS DON’t STOP. Our brains cells start to die within seconds. Let’s tell a deeper truth, we need ALS trained and outfitted team members on our crews! To support us and our public. Use that training to monitor our health and vitality during incidents. Let’s start by taking care of our crew members when they begin having medical complaints on an incident.

    5. This was a predictable event and the leadership DID NOT watch over this young man and they did not have an EFFECTIVE or SUSTAINABLE way to take care of him during a critical medical emergency that was precipitated by this suppression / containment operation. Words, cut and pasted in to an IAP IS NOT A SAFETY PLAN!

    6. DENY ENTRY! That’s what we do on a simple confined space situation and hazardous materials incident, why not a complicated vegetation fire!

    7. WE left Caleb Hamm AND his family and friends down. We were wrong and we should ask for forgiveness.

    8. Tell deeper truths!

    Relative to the Yarnell Fire, as professionals, we should be ashamed! A Type 1 CREW, with 19 deaths following a shelter deployment, on a hot day in Arizona, with extreme weather PREDICTED, and EXPECTED. In thick vegetation, far from a safety zone. Multiple things go wrong when firefighters die; MULTIPLE THINGS! Ashamed and humbled. We failed them too.

    To quote Forest Gump, “Stupid is as Stupid Does.”

    To honor Caleb, the Granite Mountain Hotshots, and all the fallen firefighters and their families, it’s time to start BEING aware, safer and smarter in a far more effective and sustainable ways.

    Be even safer and more effective! TODAY!

  15. oh, bless you!!! thank you so much!!! Thank you for putting this out there in black and white!!!!

  16. Lynette, are you saying that the ravine was more shallow than admitted? Or that the ravine was so complicated that the partner for your beloved son was gone far longer than 2/3 minutes? What about the ravine do you want people to see? I am asking because I care – I want to understand your point about the ravine. And the post above yours regarding the things done wrong in your son’s case is brilliant. Lynette, I am so sorry for your loss. It seems to me that Mr. Gleason’s rules can be improved by specifying situations in which firefighters will NOT be allowed into certain situations (e.g. when there is no way to get in medical help quickly, the burn must be left alone….).

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