Outside Magazine has a lengthy article in their November issue about the last days of the 19 members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots who were killed when they were overrun by the Yarnell Hill Fire southeast of Prescott, Arizona on June 30, 2013.
Author Kyle Dickman obviously spent a lot of time interviewing Brendan “Donut” McDonough, the sole survivor from the crew, and several family members of the 19 hotshots. The article not only provides some personal information about some crew members and their spouses, but also has a few details about the fire suppression activities that has not yet been made public.
One of the devices used by the author was to tell us what some of the hotshots were thinking, or how they made decisions at key times. It was sometimes preceded by phrases such as “they would have been thinking…”, but it was distracting as I read it, since those firefighters died before they could tell anyone what they were thinking, or why they made certain decisions. Usually Mr. Dickman’s assumptions seemed logical, but he took a bold step by using that writing trick.
For the article, Mr. McDonough apparently provided some information about his actions on the fire as well as his conversations with the Granite Mountain crew leadership and the superintendent of the nearby Blue Ridge Hotshots the afternoon of the entrapment
Surprisingly the article includes a progression map, showing the spread of the fire at 10 to 20 minute intervals before the crew was trapped. It would be interesting to know the source of that very detailed information, or if Mr. McDonough was able to see all of the fire and remembered or recorded the data.
In the excerpt from the article below, “Eric” is Eric Marsh, the superintendent of the Granite Mountain Hotshots who during the Yarnell Hill Fire was serving as Division Supervisor for the geographic division which included the Granite Mountain Hotshots. “Donut”, Mr. McDonough, was away from the crew serving as a lookout, adding an element of safety for the crew by observing the location of the fire and taking hourly weather observations. The article explained that one of the reasons he was selected for that task was that he had just recovered from an illness, and the relatively light duty would give him another day to recover. The sad thing is, any firefighter would have trouble recovering from what was supposed to have been “light duty” that June 30 afternoon.
From Outside Magazine:
“THE GRANITE MOUNTAIN crew could see Donut on the UTV racing across the flats. They could see the helicopters and air tankers pivoting from Peeples Valley to Yarnell and dozens of emergency vehicles, lights flashing, speeding down Highway 89 toward Glen Ilah, the subdivision where Truman lived. It would have been difficult for the hotshots, who had been trained to help however they can, to sit idly by and watch houses burn. They would have been thinking of their fellow firefighters placing themselves in harm’s way.
With conditions changing so dramatically, Eric and the crew’s leadership—[acting crew superintendent Captain Jesse] Steed, Clayton [Whitted], Travis [Carter], Robert [Caldwell]—would have gathered for a moment on the ridge to discuss their options while the other hotshots sat perched on white granite boulders watching the drama unfold.
Do we hunker down in the black and do nothing but watch Yarnell burn? Or do we head down there, do some point protection, and try to save a couple of homes? Eric would have made the decision. He couldn’t have imagined that, by heading for town, he was leading his crew toward a series of increasingly compromised circumstances, each more desperate than the last.
He radioed out that Granite Mountain was moving back toward Yarnell.”
Thanks go out to Bruce