(Originally published at 11:19 MDT, September 28, 2013; updated at 6 p.m. September 28, 2013. Observations after reading the report are at the bottom of this article.)
The Arizona State Forestry Division has released the Serious Accident Investigation report of the Yarnell Hill Fire, which on June 30, 2013, killed 19 members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots. It was produced by a very large cast of characters, 18 core Team Members, 17 Support Team Members, and 19 Subject Matter Experts, for a total of 54 people.
The report found:
The judgments and decisions of the incident management organizations managing this fire were reasonable. Firefighters performed within their scope of duty, as defined by their respective organizations. The Team found no indication of negligence, reckless actions, or violations of policy or protocol.
A news conference about the report was live-streamed by at least two Phoenix area television stations. In the question and answer period several national news organizations as well as local media asked questions of the five-person panel which consisted of the Arizona State Forester, two people from the investigation team, and two officers from the Prescott Fire Department.
You can download the report (6Mb file) and some “Frequently Asked Questions” about the investigation.
Below is a 21-minute video released by the investigation team today, which they described as a “A brief overview of the Yarnell Hill Fire Investigation report.” Much of it comes word for word from the report but it makes effective use of Google Earth to provide an overview of the geography of the fire.
Granite Mountain Hotshot Christopher MacKenzie shot the two video clips below shortly after 4:00 p.m. on June 30, 2013. These are the last images of the hotshots before they died. The video was unexpectedly made available today for the first time by the Prescott Daily Courier, which has an article about how the video and other photos of the fire were found.
Our observations after reading the report and viewing the press conference and the question and answer session.
The official report commissioned by the Arizona State Forestry Division, a case of them investigating themselves, did not break much new ground. There was little of a negative nature written about the crew or their employer, the Prescott Fire Department, which was barely mentioned. The Granite Mountain Hotshots were fully qualified, staffed, and trained and they were on day 13 of a permitted 14 days in a row of fighting fire. And, there was “no indication of negligence, recklessness actions, or violations of policy or protocol”.
Why did the Granite Mountain 19 leave the “black”?
The investigators emphasized that they were unable to answer one of the most-asked questions about the fatalities — why the crew left the safety of the already burned area, the black, to attempt to walk 1.6 miles mostly through unburned brush to another safety zone, the Boulder Springs Ranch. They came to within 0.38 miles of their destination when they encountered one of the heads of the fire that had wrapped around the ridge to their left in the box canyon and was headed toward them, cutting off their path probably much to their surprise. Click the map below to see a larger version of the wind at the deployment site.
No one knew where the crew was in relation to the fire
There was confusion about the location of the crew. Other firefighters thought they had either remained safely in the black where they had been for a while, or they had headed north to another safety zone. But instead, they traveled south. When they reported that they were entrapped and were deploying their fire shelters, no one knew where they were. Finally they told Air Attack they were on the “south side”, but even though a DC-10 air tanker was orbiting and ready to drop on them, airborne personnel could not find them, either due to heavy smoke or because they were looking in the wrong place. But under the extreme wind and fire conditions, it is unlikely that air support would have helped the firefighters very much.
Improving situational awareness
This is another fire, like the Esperanza Fire, where if the fire overhead, such as a Division Supervisor, Operations Section Chief, or Safety Officer, had known the location of the personnel on the fire in relation to the real-time spread of the fire, it could have saved lives — 24 on these two fires alone.
It is irresponsible for the wildland fire agencies to continue to do nothing to improve the situational awareness of firefighters, which has proved fatal to too many of them.
We have written about this several times before. Many local fire departments, EMS divisions, and police units have the ability to send location data to dispatchers. If the analog or digital ground-based radio systems being used today can’t handle this task in remote areas, then use a satellite-based system. The U.S. Forest Service asked for proposals to purchase thousands of little location devices last year, and adding high tech video systems to air attack ships could help. We have also written about a device we called a Firefighter’s Emergency Situational Awareness Device, a FESAD.
One of the recommendations in the report was to “review current technology that could increase resource tracking, communications, real time weather, etc.” The Q&A panel today said, in response to a question, that the surviving family members of the 19 Hotshots strongly suggested while being briefed this morning that tracking systems for firefighters be utilized.
Very Large Air Tanker not ordered because of “steep terrain”
The information that the state of Arizona released on July 16 about the resources deployed on the fire said a DC-10 Very Large Air Tanker (VLAT) was in Albuquerque and available on June 29, but was not ordered due to Air Attack’s concern about its effectiveness in steep terrain and inability to deliver retardant before cut-off time. The way this was addressed in today’s report was “ICT4 declines the VLAT offer at 1750 [June 29] based on fire conditions.” There was nothing about “steep terrain”, which didn’t exist on the fire to the extent that it would severely limit the effectiveness of a DC-10 VLAT. In fact, the next day, June 30, they used the hell out of both DC-10s, dropping over 88,000 gallons in 8 flights. A recommendation in today’s report was to “…develop a brief technical tip for fire supervisors/agency administrators on the effective use of VLATs.”
The DC-10s may have been effective on June 29 when the fire was still small, but by the time they both arrived on June 30, the day of the entrapment, the wind event was making it difficult for anything dropped from the air to slow down the fire — too much heat, and too much wind blowing the retardant away before it hit the target.
Aerial Supervision Module taking on too many roles?
During the time of the entrapment the roles of Air Attack and Lead Plane were filled by a single aircraft called an Aerial Supervision Module (ASM), coordinating all of the aerial firefighting, directing air traffic, preventing aircraft from bumping into each other, developing tactics, AND serving as Lead Plane, physically leading the air tankers into their targets about 200 feet above the ground. The Lead Plane duties limited their ability to perform full Air Attack responsibilities over the fire at the same time. The report said, “ASM was too busy handling multiple duties to communicate with the crew just prior to the deployment”.
One of the recommendations in the report is to request the National Wildfire Coordinating Group to develop guidance to identify at what point is it necessary to separate the ASM and Air Attack roles to carry out required responsibilities for each platform.
No overwhelming force
The ordering and use of ground and aerial firefighting resources was less than aggressive on June 29, the day before the tragedy when the fire was still small. The only air tankers used that day were two single engine air tankers, and for only part of the day, dropping a total of 7,626 gallons. After being released, they were requested again by Air Attack, but dispatch only allowed one to respond to the fire, wanting to keep one in reserve in case there were other fires. General Norman Schwarzkopf’s philosophy when confronting the enemy was to use “overwhelming force”. This strategy also is effective when confronting a wildfire. Overwhelming force for a short amount of time can prevent megafires burning for weeks, consuming many acres, dollars, and sometimes homes and lives.
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216 thoughts on “Yarnell Hill Fire report released”
To me, the report does not tell me any more than I already knew.
Someone made a bad decision and 19 ff died..
Breaking it down to its simplest numbers… 100 F, single digit rh’s, chaparral fuel type and possible thundershowers (we know they can bring wind)
These basic numbers scream WATCH OUT!
The whole report reads like it was very highly combed over by lawyers. E.g., the “judgments and decisions of the incident management organizations managing this fire were reasonable.” “Organizations” can be read a few ways there. You could take this report and apply it to the Thirtymile fire just as easily.
To me, this actually underscores that an ability to have private reports, if they then were substantive and not lots of politically correct language that can be read 50 different ways, could in fact be useful. My takeway from this report, if I read it at face value, is that fires are dynamic and stuff will happen, but that it’s good to show initiative. But, with the politicized environment, it may have been the best they could do.
Maybe a stupid question, but I have to ask why, with all of the technological capabilities we have today, crews such as Granite Mountain are not/can not be equipped with GPS transponders that would allow air support to locate them in emergencies? Surely the capability exists.
I couldn’t agree more. The technology exists and it should be standard equipment with all crews.
Amateur radio hams have had a system that tracks gps position for years. http://www.aprs.org
They have hand held VHF radios that automatically report gps position every time the mic is keyed. http://www.yaesu.com/indexVS.cfm?cmd=DisplayProducts&ProdCatID=111&encProdID=64C913CDBC183621AAA39980149EA8C6
Yes, the technology exists to build a VHF tracking and communications network.
yabbut, the fed agencies (let alone state and local fire resources and IMTs want to rely on “amateur radio hams”? Don’t think so.
4. lots of other stuff
amateur radio hams and those who have followed and re-broadcast radio transmissions and scanner stuff over the years are NOT the kind of reliability/responsibility needed in this sort of situation.
nope. no reliance on hams. Just pointing out that they figured out how to build a VHF packet switched network that is pretty much automatic and commercial suppliers can build VHF voice handsets that work in their network. It is not cheating technology to assume that a similar network could be built for firefighting.
Tweak it a bit and its pretty similar to military JTIDS networks with which I also have some familiarity. JTIDS is overkill and APRS falls short but the technology is there to do the job and do it well. In fact, a modified ASM aircraft could be automated and just the ticket to ensure coverage across the entire fire ground.
There are some very reliable and effective GPA trackers. An interagency effort has been made since before the implementation of AFF for aircraft to do the same with vehicles and people. Our hang up every time is the Unions, claiming privacy issues and infringement of individual rights among other things.
To me of a person is employed, on duty and/or utilizing durable/trackable equipment and agency vehicles, working within the scope of their duties. Should be tracked. It’s done great things in the aircraft rhelm [AFF] I also see less “side” trips or detours that were occasionally made by aircraft pre-AFF.
ADS-B will be a requirement for larger aircraft in the near future. It would be a shame to pass up the opportunity to integrate the FAA air tracking system with a good ground tracking system.
Too much focus on the supposed lack of or non-effective technology. GPS transponder in this case would have only told the crew and everyone else, they were in the wrong spot at the wrong time.
Review the 10 Standard Fire Orders and the 18 Watch Out Situations. The crew overlooked or minimized several of these.
This is a sensitive situation, but the best way for the living to honour the dead is to learn from their mistakes. Pussy-footing around the real causes so as not to offend anyone dooms future FF’s.
Weather reporting and current conditions for the fire lacked an important (if not critcal) existing local automated weather station. Why?! Or did it matter? Now, in the report, Peeples shows up.
I remain stymied why the automated weather station in Peeples Valley, EW2144 Peeples (http://raws.wrh.noaa.gov/cgi-bin/roman/meso_base.cgi?stn=E2144), was not used or even referenced during the fire. Its readings are certainly more representative of current conditions around Yarnell than those of Stanton 5 miles to the southeast on the desert floor or of Love Field 36 miles to the northeast.
The report was very sympathetic to the crew and its apparent desire to re-deploy/re-engage and stayed far away from assigning blame. It also seems to differ from many previous reports in barely mentioning the 10 orders and 18 watch outs and not discussing whether each of these were violated. It did, though, call for more discussion about escape routes and good/bad black/green. I’m also left wondering about whether technology could help ICTs know where their crews are and could have perhaps let the VLAT on scene make a drop to have perhaps given them more of a chance in their otherwise utterly unsurvivable deployment site. The report didn’t seem to discuss whether GM would have recognized the entrapment potential of the blind descent into the box canyon.
Wonder how the “never seen before” video that the news station got sent an hour before the press conference is gonna play into this?
One of the reporters questioned the panel at the press conference about equipping all firefighters with GPS trackers so the IMT can see their locations. Sounds really simple, right? But how exactly are you going to make that work on the ground? Will we add another position (e.g. personnel tracker) to the roster on the IMT?
The guy bitching about shelters and how they should be able to withstand 2000 degrees was a real groaner.
I thought the panel did a really professional job of fielding questions, and I’m glad the two Prescott guys stayed quiet.
Kelly, the fellow talking about the shelters to the panel is David Turbyfill. Fallen GMHS Travis Turbyfill was not only his son but was his only child.
Mr. Turbyfill is also doing research on probable improvements to the shelters. He was only asking the panel to help put him in contact with the agency people who could help facilitate improvements to the shelters.
The panel graciously responded that they would help facilitate.
He’s a grief-stricken father trying to help the WFFs in a way he feels he can.
There is a whole lot to talk about here, and I sure it will be talked and talked and talked. I was only a short way into it when something jumped out at me; the fire was considered not much a threat at first, echos reports from South Canyon in 1994. Then the next thing that jumped out, really jumped out, is that the ICT4 refused the DC-10 when he could not get 2 LATs. Now they do not elaborate on why, or where the DC-10 was parked,, but 11,000+ gallons of retardant delivered at this stage of the fire could have made a huge impact. And knowing there is a reload base for it 80 miles away near Phoenix(Gateway International), I am left with a queasy feeling in my stomach that this thing could (should?) have been nipped in the bud earlier. I know about hind sight being 20 20, but when I hear conversations about giving crews GPS trackers so airtankers can go down and make “blind drops” through the dangerous winds and heavy smoke to save them make me very uneasy about what some people are thinking. We cannot “technology” our way out every situation. Nothing can take the place of quality critical thinking and actions when the time is of the essence. It sounds like this crew thought they had the information they needed, saw what was ahead of them, and made the decision that led to what we are talking about now. The question is how will the rest of this use this tragic situation to further our own knowledge, and add to the safety of every firefighter in the future? A great legacy for the Granite Mountain Hotshots would be that this would be the last loss of firefighter life on a wildfire, ever. A very tall order indeed, but worth working for even harder.
I agree, we shouldn’t attempt to replace critical thinking with technology; however, if GPS tracking or weather predictive technology can be used to enhance the quality of critical thinking, then I think we should be using it.
What GJ said.
The reporter at the press conference who asked (paraphrasing here) “why didn’t you just slap it the first night with a big ol’ airtanker drop?”
well, the question seems simple on its face.
But I think Dudley answered it quite professionally. There wasn’t anything to drop on that night.
The “investigative professional” who persisted during the press conference was obviously pushing the panel members, and I’m really glad that Presskit shut up and Duds spoke up. He’s looking for a mare’s nest here, and I think the press conference cleared THAT up.
There are no words to describe that monsoon thunderstorm that hit Prescott proper the afternoon of June 30th, before flowing down into Peeples Valley and Yarnell.
There were multiple lightening strikes in the city, and one bolt set P Mountain on fire, threatening homes on that hill. The storm knocked out power in downtown Prescott and toppled some large/mature trees. We’ve seen a lot of monsoon storms, but that one was particularly wicked.
As residents of Prescott, we watched the Doce Fire incident, and thankfully a federal ICT1 was immediately assigned to it less than 12 hours after the fire ignited. We watched all air assets work the fire; 910 and 911 flew over our neighborhood on their way to refuel down in Phoenix. The GMIHC successfully contributed their elite, WFF skills and helped contain that fire that threatened over 460 residences.
They marched into the Granite Mountain Wilderness Area and cut line, even saving a national champion, 1000-year-old Alligator Juniper.
That’s how our community will always remember the 19 fallen and Brendan.
I did not come up with this, but it holds true again, unfortunately:
Lunch. A Common Denominator on Tragedy fires.
The report mentions :”…included a doubling of fire intensity and flame lengths, a second 90-degree directional change, and a dramatically accelerated rate of spread.
The Granite Mountain IHC left the lunch spot and traveled southeast on the two
-track road near the ridge top. Then, they descended from the two-track road and took the most direct route towards Boulder Springs Ranch. The Team believes the crew was attempting to reposition so they could reengage”
However, in Appendix A, Sequence of Events, I see no reference to when the crew ate lunch. Page 32 has a map of the “Lunch Spot”, and a sidebar mentions:
“Around 1605 to 1610, the crew began moving from the flank of the fire where they had been working (the lunch spot area). They traversed the two-track road near the top of the ridge and proceeded southeast along the ridge
until they reached a saddle….”
Noone wants to address LUNCH, but something happens in a Human Factors way after/during the meal break.
Years of fire and prescribed burning have taught that, when you break (snack, lunch, fatigue) stuff can happen during that break or shortly thereafter…
Mann Gulch, South Canyon, Yarnell?
After lunch is the most active part of the burn period.
Very interesting, a meal break, July 1953, Mendocino N.F. dinner break, 15 fire fighters burned to death, Rattlesnake fire. Moving through a brush field is like swimming to an island from shore. It didn’t seem that far. Visit my experience on this comment page. Another factor, the wind (weather) seemed to be in a crew leaders favor prior to the disaster. Food for thought.
Lets face the facts the first mistake was leaving there line assignment without checking with the line boss. The next mistake was leaving a safe area to travel through unburned fuel. At that point the 10 and 18’s should have been waving red flags all over the place Box Canyon, strong winds, heavy fuel, no lockout, no radio contact, every thing we were taught from the first fire training we went to. What were highly qualified wildland firefighters thinking
evidently not about the basics. This did not need to happen.
Their line boss (Div A) was with them. He died too. They had radio communication. Heavy fuels are prevalent on all large fires these days. You should read some modern day thinking on accidents. Try “a field guide to understanding human error” or “drift into failure”. Your hindsight bias is embarrassing.
The lack of assuming responsibility is embarrassing. Superintendents are responsible for the well-being of their crew. Period.
Who said Eric would not accept responsibility. Eric was a good supt. Ask anyone who worked with his crew. The question is why the decision made sense to him and Jesse. Which is what the report attempts to flesh out. If you want to keep using the 10 and 18 to crucify dead people after the fact. Have fun. Look where it has gotten us so far.
The lack of assuming responsibility? If someone, anyone, steps up, let’s time how long it takes for the first lawsuit to be filed.
No blame will be assigned. The CYA in action yet again……
Thank you for bringing up the 10 and 18, many things happened, one after another. To have people say that they will never know what happened is just crazy, we all know.
Having realtime locations for our firefighters isn’t going to buy us much safety-wise until we have realtime intel on the location of the fire. Without this, they are just dots on a basemap. We don’t have realtime fire location data, and it’s not coming any time soon.
Fire location was provided by a National Guard Predator UAV at the Rim fire and integrated into a JTIDS picture. It can be done.
Can be done, but at what expense? Can we provide an eye in the sky for every fire? Yarnell was only one of dozens of fires burning in the SW at that time, The Granite Mountain crew couldn’t afford to pay benefits or provide permanent status to all of their crewmembers. Do we want to spend our money on firefighters or defense contractors?
Add it to the National Guard Mission. They have the infrastructure to do everything and more, and you already pay for them. They could use the extra training opportunities.
Well, we waited for the report to come out before casting judgement, even though some of us may have had our doubts about the team essentially investigating themselves; a classic case of the fox guarding the hen house. Big surprise, the report is perhaps the most white washed investigation yet. 19 firefighters leave the black, walking across over a mile of green in light and flashy fuels to a distant safety zone with an extensive hot flank in the distance, knowing that the predicted wind could turn the very active flank into a head fire moving directly towards them, and no faults were found? Ridiculous. I guess the buck doesn’t stop anywhere, anymore. At least we got a lecture on Hindsight Bias. Give me a break.
right on, where was rehab, these guys are out of line, no mention 10 and 18.
Why does there have to be a finding of fault. It has not solved anything to this point. Why do you think persecuting with the 10 and 18 and a hindsight bias will prevent accidents. We have been trying that for 40 years. I have fought fire with GM IHC on some tough pieces of dirt. They were good firefighters.
I’ve worked with them, too. Good crew, no doubt, but a very, very poor call was made and now we have a bunch of dead young men. We can bury our heads in the sand and pretend no one made any errors in judgement, but if you’ve been beating the dirt for long, and I see you have, you know things like this don’t just happen. Look at South Canyon, the most recent disaster that compares with Yarnell. A crucial individual in that burnover resumes his career after killing most of a crew, then leads another crew into an entrapment years later, where fortunately everyone survives. Poor decisions and leadership or just a coincidence again? Fires don’t just kill us randomly, it takes crucial errors. We can throw cushy new-age slogans like “hindsight bias” all we want, but it trivializes lessons to be learned.
I disagree. Please read the books I mentioned above. If so many valuable lessons are being learned from casting blame and using the 10 and 18 to criticize actions after the fact, why are we still killing so many firefighters. This method does not work. If we want to lower the base rate we need to change our rules of engagement. Please stop defiling the names of our fallen.
People continue to get killed because we don’t heed the lessons we’ve learned. There really is nothing new in this business. It is the same situations and same mistakes killing kids. This investigation is trying to tell us people get burned over after doing nothing wrong. What can we learn from that?
I don’t know what “Change rules of Engagement ” means. As a wildland firefirefighter for many years now retired, I say you can call it hindsight bias but you decide what your life’s worth when you engage. You can blame it on bad radios, not enough air support or whatever, but it’s you and your wits that keeps you alive. You are given the tools to survive, Use them and live.
“If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”
– The Granite Mtn HS crew was hosted by the Prescott FD. A municipal fire department with a culture of structural firefighting and protection.
– Superintendent Marsh expressed frustration at the support the crew received from the Prescott FD.
– Several former Granite Mtn hotshots were able to garner regular full time fireman positions with the Prescott FD.
– Darrell Willis, Superintendent Marsh’s direct supervisor at the Prescott FD, was assigned structure protection duties at the Yarnell Hill fire.
No one will know ever know why the decision was made to leave the safety of the black. But to ignore the human factors in which the decision was made is a travesty!
Ted Putnam tried for years to create a learning environment in which future safety in wildland firefighting would come not through more gizmos, technology and “training” but through a better understanding of decision making behavior both personal and organizational, especially while under stress.
There is very little to be learned from this report.
Rosie: Your comments are most enlightening. Please contact me at bi***********@gm***.com. (I just read your comments to Ted Putnam, and he is delighted.)
It’s not that mapping technology and situation awareness tools are not useful, it’s the more the practical side of actually implementing them, training people to use them during unimaginable conditions, and maintaining them across thousands of different jurisdictions.
Here we had an incident involving a municipal department (that can’t presently afford to make all of its crewmembers permanent employees), working with a USDA Forest Service ‘shot crew, getting weather reports from the National Weather Service (Department of Commerce), with the County Sheriff working on evacuations while privately contracted aircraft drop retardant. All of this under the oversight of a State Management Team, with an Interagency Federal Team on its way.
Even though each agency has its own independent multimillion dollar IT and communications programs, the report points out that the communications problems between firefighters on the ground were more related to human factors than technical issues.
When weather and fuel conditions are critical, there are real limits to our ability to manage people and events. Fires will run and we’d best be out of the way – you can’t count on someone sitting at a computer miles away to tell you when or which way to run.
IMHO, technological “magic wands” will tend to produce, not reduce, risk.
It *is* possible to fight fire SAFELY and aggressively with a brain, a shovel, a canteen, a map, a compass, plus 10 and 18. No GPS tracking, no VLAT, no radio, no fire shelter, no drones, no air attack. It can take more time; it can take more space. It will take skill and it will take finesse. But it need not be passive and it need not be more dangerous. If we can’t be safe and effective with the tools we have, we need to learn that before moving on.
Well Stated Amen
What does safe mean to you? Free from harm? Adequate protection? There is no risk free way to fight fire. Unless we do not fight fire. The 10 and 18 are good controls. They do not ensure safety. We have usedthe 10 and 18 to critique time critical decisions with hindsight bias for the last 40 years. Nothing has changed. This report tries to stop the traditional witch hunt and figure out why decisions made sense at the time. GM IHC was a good crew. No one on GM IHC thought leaving the black would lead to their death. Otherwise they wouldn’t have done it. This report recognizes that. They were smart firefighters. What caused them to think this was the best decision?
We do not Fight fire with hand crews. We manage it.
Stay out of the Fire’s food dish, or become Fire food.
15 YR. I must disagree with you, I think a better way of looking at the 10 and 18 is how many fires have been put out with no death and little injury. That’s a number I would like to see.
The 10 and 18 are and always will be the best tools a wildland fire fighter has. We also know that even the best tools can be used improperly. This is a broad statement pertaining to all wildland fire fighters, not just GM.
Ignoring just one can have very bad outcomes. Sometimes you get lucky.
This report actually does a DISSERVICE by distracting from some core issues and focussing on technology.
Nothing can replace on-the-ground situational awareness, experience and sound judgement. And let’s not forget ultimate respect for the power of wildfire and Mother Nature.
I was disappointed with most of the report and share the concern that it ignored the differences between the old guard structural approach to firefighting and modern WFF. Having come from the structural side, I am pretty sure I know what Marsh was thinking because it was a classic aggressive structural move that in my world has often resulted in firefighter fatalities.
But here’s what gets me: I thought hotshots were “elite” firefighters, yet I learned from other sources (not the report) that three crewmembers had NEVER fought wildland fire. As in NO experience. I know Marsh and the captains were experienced, but has anyone analyzed whether these guys should have been out there? I was thinking that deserved at least a mention, but the report is silent.
Apparently they met IHC standards, which does allow a certain number of inexperienced firefighters, 20 percent I believe. Of course they are used in just a crew member capacity, under the guidance of experienced overhead. So, it certainly wasn’t a crew of old salts, but they fell within IHC standards.
Why does a seasoned Supt leave the black and travel across the unburned in heavy fuel, thunderstorm conditions etc? The report only tells us what happened in geater detail, we already know what happened, 19 guys were killed, WHY? There’s got to be an explanation out there, I believe Mash’s decision to basically take a shortcut through the green to assist with structure protection was influenced by someone he feared could make life very difficult for him if he didn’t comply. Did anyone check Marsh’s cell phone activity before fatefull decision? Yeah its’s just speculation but hotshot crews don’t just decide unilaterally their going to leave their assignment and go willy nilly where they want. There’s a big fat hole in that accident report… the families deserve a reasonable explanation.
Am I naive in thinking that the biggest lesson to learn from the Yarnell tragedy (and the lesson not specifically identified in the report) is that there should be a bright-line “rule” or a clearly-recognized “best practice” that specifies that a FF team should NEVER leave “the black” (or their safety spot) when:
(a) they have no lookout (e.g. a FF who is located apart from them, with “good eyes” on the fire), and
(b) there are weather reports indicating the weather might be in flux and/or wind might be an issue.
My impression is that these 19 brave men likely did not want to keep sitting on their butts in the black, while the fire raged. They were trained to fight fires, and they wanted to get to the ranch to help protect it. But if there was a clear bright-line rule (or “best practice”) that basically instructed them to sit-tight and wait in the black (at least until they had a new lookout with good eyes on the fire), that could have helped them resist their natural instinct to get out there and move.
Also, why aren’t transcripts of the interviews conducting in researching to prepare the report attached to the report, as they were in the Mann Gulch (?) fire investigation and in the Duke (?) fire investigations? Having those interviews transcribed and available allowed everyone to get a better sense of what was going on, and it allowed everyone who was interested to learn as much as they could and form their own judgments.
Lastly, Joy and Rex – two witnesses to the fire and to the 19 hotshots before they died – had some incredible insights that seemed not to have made it into the report. (I heard the insights when Joy/Rex were interviewed by a local AZ t.v. station.) Nobody is done any favors with a report that is not as painfully candid, detailed, and objective as it could be. No blame needs to be assigned – this was an accident and a tragedy – but failing to call out certain obvious points is just unconscionable, in my view.
A specific tactical instruction that is supposed to apply to *all* situations at *all* times is a trickier thing to develop than it might seem. In direct attack, a remote lookout may be at greater risk than the forces s/he is supposedly guarding; it can be difficult to have an effective lookout when making first contact, and there are ways to deal with that; a force “stuck” in their safety zone for lack of a lookout then has no practical way to improve their situation without outside intervention — which may not be available or timely or competent. Staying put when weather may be a problem sort of shuts you down for the bulk of fire season in a lot of the West — and may prevent finding out what you don’t currently know, or maneuvering to a safer or more effective disposition.
Standard Firefighting Orders and Watch Out Situations (and some tactical checklists/SOPs which accompany them) provide clear guidance on these hazards and many others, without excessively obstructing fireline forces from addressing fireline challenges with resources actually available to them in the situation they actually face. Unfortunately, these guidelines cannot apply themselves, but require application by diligent firefighters, under the direction of experienced and mature fireline leaders, provided with adequate training and supervision by competent and responsible managers, within an organizational culture that values protection of human life over “Can Do” macho. And we haven’t managed to assemble that combination in all places at all times.
When things this bad happen, there *is* blame to be assigned. But it won’t be. Those most responsible mark themselves outside the scope of investigation, or simply pay taxes and vote. Those least responsible died. Struggle on.
If they would have stayed where they were for 30 min. they would be here today. They had the weather forcast, they had communications and they had there line assignment. They had no reason to move. and were safe. Relying on an air tanker to save your but is not a safety practice. A change in weather Radio promlems Part of fighting fire thats why the shout watchout. make dissions baised on Safety the 10 and 18 is a check list and has served well sence 1957.
No it has not.
How many firefighters have we killed since 1957?
Why is the lookout still on the ground when we have the air power to put him above the fire?
When the police respond to potentially dangerous suspects here in the city, they send about 50 cars AND THEN they have the helicopter circling overhead, keeping very close watch over the entire scene.
Why do we not have this in place for firefighters in the field? Put a Jacob’s Ladder under such a vehicle, and you have a quick means to removing untold resources from a danger zone. In this case 2-5 minutes would have been more than enough time to move the entire team off that ridge.
Sorry, but no. Air Attack could not locate them through the smoke during the burnover, a helicopter would not have fared any better. The reason you do not rely on an aerial platform as your only lookout is something will go wrong with them when you can least afford it to; they must be refueled, they get called away to a higher priority mission, something breaks. It’s the Lockheed corallary to Murphy’s Law. We just got the helicopter rappell program back after an accident, no one is going to buy off on dragging firefighters along dangling from a rope ladder.
Sonny (“Tex”) Gilligan and Joy Collura did share their information and photos with the team. I’m hoping they blog somewhere their thoughts after reading this report. They both have also walked the trails and two-track road with AZOSHA. That report is due to come out in January 2014.
The Boulder Springs ranch’s owners had previosly cleared substantial space around their residence and outbuildings, so their ranch did not need to be defended. The GMIHC saw it as a safety zone not as a structure to defend.
Here we go again–Joy Collura and I maybe can shed some light here. Her photos and those finally realeased by this report say much. Still, the report indeed left us with many questions unanswered. The Hot Shots who answer this report are asking the important questions as well.
First we do wonder why all phone records were not checked. Joy reminded me that of all the watch time those men had and there were 20 of them, we know that wives, girlfriends, relatives, and others were told what was going on, and most likely who and why those men went down into that thicket of brush and boulders. We wonder who would order such unfortunate gamble. Will the answer come from those phone conversations during the hour they were resting before going down? Certainly basic rules as stated by the experienced Hot Shots in the comment walls here were violated.
Joy and I photographed moonsoon conditions in the distance northeast toward the Prescott area. It is well known the weather and wind directions can change drastically when you see cloud and lightning conditions in the vicinity. So we wonder why that was not heeded?
Today I visited the memorial put up near the Ranch Club Restaurant. I had passed the Granite Mountain Hot Shot Crew Cab where burgers were being given out and donations toward helping survivors were being taken. The sight of the bus was sad for me since Joy had it in one of here photos where it had been parked below where the Hot Shots perished that day June 30. I took time at the memorial to read what it takes to be a hot shot. They started out with a Hot Shot must strickly obey orders. For instance, in this case, although it had to be apparant to some of those men that they were absolutely headed to a very higly dangerous area, they were obliged to do that. Most were of a younger age, so I could see that they might blindly follow orders. I look back when I was a miner at the Ward Mine back in the 70’s I had quit that mine after watching 12×12 timbers mushroom on their tops. The mine foreman took us in past these and said no worry, more would be put in and it was a safe situation. Well 6 other miners agreed, but I instead picked up my check. A week or so later I heard the mine caved at that point. Six men and old Bill were caught in there and barely found a way back out through an air shaft and crawling 600 yards. Just to say, I likely would not make a good Hot Shot, for that day I saw danger and red. When Joy argued with me to go down into that very bowl I adamantly refused and told her we would stay south where we could see the fire and to the top of the mountain ridge so we had options to drop off into sparse vegetation or remain on the trail until we could drop off the west Congress side in a bouldery area. It was quite steep and I went up high leaving her there to pout. She says it was 30 minutes or so before I returned, and she finally agreed to keep climbing instead of dropping down into that disaster area.
I think you really need to hike the place to understand the situation. That day it was up to 106 degrees hot. Those men appeared expended when we passed them at 9:18 am. By 12:24 we had watched the fire overtake a mountain to the north of us in less than 14 minutes while we were where the Hot Shot Crew dropped down. We did not have the option of the black, nor helicopter retrival. So as soon as I saw that wildfire with flames 40-50 foot high headed toward Peoples Valley, I said we need to get the hell out of here.
I understand Eric and Sneed were excitedly discussing this violent thrust of the fire as well.
I think you really need to hike the place to understand the situation. That day it was up to 106 degrees hot. Those men appeared expended when we passed them at 9:30 am.
around 3-4pm this high desert is at its hottest. From the vantage point of the Helms Ranch and safety zone, a down hill run looks deceptively easy. After all it is perhaps only about a mile away. But these fires travel at breakneck speeds when geared up and a wind behind them. They can top ridges, move around the ridge as this one did and do fast action to catch you.
Now I wonder how many of those men actually knew how hard it is to work your way through that manzanita growth. I call it bear wallow material, since the bears often prefer to wallow through it rather than take it at a frontal assault. A human has to crawl under, back up as in a maze often, fight cat claw that likes to rip flesh, and generally enjoy a slow advance that does often have you at a crawl. We know we were at the very spot that morning in the dark working our way up while the fire was still a few acres and in the boulders slowly advancing its way down the mountain.
Does every Hot Shot have to train and experience transversing through that stuff. We did about 3 miles of it that day and it took over 3 hours to get to that fire break track. We did not have the option to come through private land to get to the fire break and use it all the way. If they do not train in that stuff they certainly better get a good dose of it before they are sent into manzanita fires. We did show Josh EElls and let him experience about a hundred yards of it. I was surprised he did not write about that in his article in Men’s Magazine.
By the way, OSHA actually timed the walk in the black with us from the saddle where they dropped down to the spot of demise. It took a Marathon Runner Brett Steuter 22 minutes just to get to the spot they perished. That was with no manzanita to fight. Joy took 33 minutes, and I was just ahead of Brett by a couple minutes. Joy was with Bruce Hanna the other OSHA official. Bruce fell and that was easy to do since that grade was above 60%.
Once at the place of their deaths one can see bald boulders within less than a hundred yards to the South and a better set of boulders to the North. My scheme was to seek out those boulder areas on the south rim Congress side in case that fire turned on us. You see they did have some clearance around them and a bit of sparser manzanita due to arroyos on both sides. The North side had they gotten to there would have afforded a safe zone. These were young men and I wonder why that option was not used. Keep near the boulder areas in case you need to use them. Boulders saved two men in a Montana fire where 15 others were lost. I am sure that was not the only time either. Joy did photograph those areas so it could be clearly seen that especially to the north there is almost a football field of boulders that did not burn. The middle of those most likely would have saved the men though respirators of sorts might have been useful. We did see where dear were burned spotted, yet survived. The small deer did not so much since they could not navigate the manzanita.
Joy and I survived–Had we taken the trail to the cattle pond I can tell you it was more of a funnel than the bowl they perished in. I can imagine that fire came up that canyon and with the amount of extra brush in there, most likely above 40 miles per hour due to the steepness and narrowness of the gorge.
Lots of lessons can be learned from this one. Hopefully they were not thinking they could out run a fire by going through manzinata and hopefully some one did not order them to chance their precious lives to protect structures. Structures can be replaced, lives cannot.
Joy and I seem to take an inordinate amount of interest in this fire. Me perhaps because I lost a son who got hurt in an underwater welding accident and later died. I feel the pain of the survivors. Joy, I think because she herself survided and we were so close to those men that day, even conversing with Eric and those as we passed.
As we dropped off in the boulders on the Congress side and south end of Weaver Mountains, I saw helicopters with bags below. I commented to Joy it looks like they are already bringing out bodies. Little did I know that those omen of the day were realized. By the time we had arrived in Yarnell the evacuation was already in order. A quick trip up the hill in my old station wagon and we saw that it was already into the west edge of Yarnell. We were able to load up an almost hysterical friend, her seven dogs, two cats, and two birds to get her out with us to Congress where her son was roadblocked. God Bless America, those men–and may we follow better training and procedures in the future. These lives were not lost in vain.
Sick at heart is my very first thought as I skimmed it yesterday and it took me a few hours to get back to it to read it fully and listen to the videos- I wept as I saw the body positions. I thought of the person who had to find them that way and the smoke filled air along with the fatal smells of nineteen men and wildlife and structures and pets- I am an avid hiker to that area and I know it had to be difficult to be first on the scene knowing that maze-like dense vegetation/terrain so I truly stopped reading to pray for that person- I am so sorry you had to see that for your life. Than I thought of OSHA when we hiked 9-18-13 and how they had to see that as well- so sorry Brett- and other people as well. So sorry for the families, friends and loved ones of these men especially the ones that remain without a voice as your life unfolds because we live in a modern world of judgments and people who love to sue for the sake of it or maybe you knew them privately and cannot have a voice- we are your voice too- God laid it on my heart that the right person has been addressed and that person will let the truth be revealed- the right person will cover this the way God wants it not me- if it was up to me- no one would of heard from me or seen the photos but it took Willis’ lack of transparency and odd ways at his media conference as we watched from the mountain top (“off the record” crack) in the start and not answering direct questions from a variety of folks—that had me talk to Sonny and Sonny stated I must share the photos for these nineteen dead men for the photos may have some significance in the time stamp of the Granite Mountain Hotshots/place of equipment/the fire as it transgressed from a containable fire to the gates of hell/before photos of the area— which we were the last civilian hikers to have seen and speak to them and if it is correct in the media reports the sole survivor passed us that morning as I made a light-hearted crack “good timing- my job is done- y’all can take over now” and as I did I looked at them all and thought “right”- these men looked tired and some drenched and beet red yet when I saw the photos at the Prescott Fire Station- Jesse, Grant and Eric look conditioned and not red at all- one mumbled a reply as I passed them & I always wondered since Brendan was there- if he remembers or if it was him- I have never heard from him yet. In the start of my grief I did bump into some of the loved ones and widows of these 19 men and people Brendan & the others partied with and that was hard for me to see them- because I have a hard time with nineteen men no longer here and I was there where they perished that same spot that morning so I could imagine a person who knew and loved them- it has to be extremely hard that there is no proper way to express sympathy on such an avoidable worst imaginable way to leave a loved one – The photos were to be shared in a manner I kept it private in a link for my husband and parents and I would share the link to very few here locally and to any investigators/media/authors/journalist even if their story did not include us and I prefer not- I do not need notoriety yet have not minded it if helps bring in funds to the fallen 19 and the ones effected by the fire here in town- we hiked as well with others to show them the trails. The only thing I asked as some asked me how much I wanted for the photos or the story- I said give me “courtesy credit”, donate directly to the ones effected and get the word out because at that time the more media coverage the better chance Willis is wrong when he stated the answers died with these dead men- I believe there is more to be told and cell phone calls and texts to be investigated and we are not talking to any media in the future except one and that person knows that God has it in His plan for that person to do this investigation- and there is a few authors doing a book/article either on the Granite Mountain Hotshots or the Yarnell Hill Fire—so much more to discover and it has to be done with sensitivity and sources and proven ways/documents versus one’s life perceptions of the situation. I will never take any monies for doing what is right and that is giving these nineteen men a VOICE because so much has been shared it was Steed or Marsh but there is more than what has surfaced and there is some top tips awaiting documented proof/sources but I am very confident in this one person that the truth will be revealed in God’s time- we strongly feel very confident. Do you hear me, grieving loved ones? There is someone out there who has a lot of information and that person will get your truths for you and your loved one that is no longer with us- I am focused to that as well as rebuilding this community- remember Tex- the man who told me at 12:38pm- “let’s get the hell out of here”— that was obvious so why would these men knowing the weather—knowing the terrain/vegetation- go that odd dense way- read page 38 of report- it may of had a steep terrain initially yet that flat terrain was one hell of a maze- people NEED to know that- the place they perished we disagreed that morning- tough SLOW GOING maze-like terrain. page 39- Tex states he knew it was a threat at 12:38pm and so he does not get this- we had kestrel readings in the forties- makes no sense- why the hell is a gal like me have a kestrel but a firefighter who is a wildland firefighter does not- ????
really- ALSO- we went to the Congress side walking the mountaintop and we ended out by Phoenix lady’s place in Glen Ilah on Foothill??? so there was no need to go to Congress- they could of done what we did-
there is no tactical reason- ??? you can get to Yarnell- WE DID doing it that option- by going south on the Congress side for a bit- than turned back to the area near Candie Cane Lane that goes to Foothills- the old Cloudcroft Subdivision dirt area near cattle pond-
another question by Joy- if there is an extreme drought- why go down that dense maze??? ugh.
I have someone working on getting documented information that maybe there is an alive person who has the answer and thank God for private investigating teams versus state, county & federal ones that have to run their report through lawyers to make sure it is all stated just right- these officials and pastors have preached a pretty sermon- yet they don’t say nothing- We hear the songs being sung in remembrance to the fallen 19 yet they don’t say anything- what I have read in the media is not what I eye-witnessed 6-30-13 and I broke the silence with cbs investigator Morgan Loew simply to help the investigators to prevent this from ever hopefully happening again. This was not an accident. This was indeed an avoidable tragedy because number one you do not drop in a canyon out of the fires’ views and allow your eyes of the fire leave the area completely when I was getting kestrel readings of 43mph- for the facts of the weather, the dehydrated maze/ trap-like of manzanita they dropped down into- it does not add up- the lack of transparency from the officials sharing to the media- it bewilders me. Putting a restriction on land indefinitely and I would like to receive mail when that restriction order was discussed and put in place
I did note that Willis email did not match to wind speeds on report as he told me 80-90mph
MY QUESTIONS FROM READING REPORT-
1.around 1550 the wind shifted it states yet we watched it take that mountain at 12:38 and we also saw a shift the next hour and so on- it was not 1550 when it had an initial shift. Why did they not mention the hour to hour wind shifts and make it seem like the shift happened at 1550?
2.Personnel? Willis? Who? who communicated with GMIHC? Who is that mystery man with Eric Marsh in some of my photos?
3.Known? How? GM IHC left black 404pm to Helms- HOW can you get to point a to point b in that impenetrable terrain/vegetation in the short time they state? I do not understand- many who hiked it with us do not understand-
4.less than two minutes to deploy? how? 19 men- help me understand how- that was an unusual that vegetation so cuttings would take a bit plus moving it- it was WHERE we fought that morning- I saw that area UP CLOSE that morning- and they had what 4 saws?
5.with temps exceeding 5-6000 not 2,000 one man stated that was a geologist- how could the men even be in that area surrounded by boulders because boulders retain heat in an unusual way- ask rock experts-
6.I thought the men were not qualified and such? and did not meet all standards? Why does it state they were in report okay in all areas?
7.also how does one learn the actual year of the last fire because that guy was in HS and recalls it 1968 not 66′- how do we see that?
8.if radio communication failed- what about cell phones? oh yeah they were in the GM crew bus as Brendan said he heard them going off-
9.we fought that day because Sonny (Tex) perceived at 12:38 IT WAS an excessive risk so much that he came back for my stubborn butt.
10.If they were in the black and safe- why go to the most dense fueled area? why? I need that answer- they stated few people…well than a few people DID KNOW their intentions, movement and location
11.page 3- “retrospect” area…decision???
12.can we see aerial coverage photos or footage from 11am-1pm? how? I would like to see it.
13..This report as you see the names who covered this- they interviewed us 8/13/13 2:04pm-2:48pm by a phone conference-
14. The very spot they went down was INDEED impenetrable.
15. Air attack 2 seat drops at 1136 and 1145 on burnout and Eric Marsh was frustrated and so were we- we were frustrated too-
16. page 18 they state they parked next to the GM crew cabs but it was NEXT but in close proximity- NEAR
Joy and Tex (Sonny) not Rex- the only Rex I know is Superstition’s Antique Store who has cancer and Rex Maughan who has Don Glasglow restricting the private land in this Yarnell area that surrounds the 320 acres restricted by state land out of the respect of the private homes and the fallen 19 area- and Fri, Jul 19, 2013 at 8:19 AM Paxon emailed that map- I have no clue how long the restriction is in effect for-
I can tell you make sure you have your state land permit when travelling up the Congress way to see the original fire area-
Joy, God bless you for replying. God bless you and Tex (not Rex – sorry)! If you get time, will you e-mail me at maggiesnoot@ yahoo . com
I think I can help you with your transparency efforts. I am in a related field, professionally.
Thank you, again, for your candor. You are doing right by the families of the victims. (particularly poor Mr. Turbytill (??))
nice to see a comment like such- I am over on Morgan Loew’s Witnesses to Yarnell Hill Fire break silence link answering one that states “us weirdos gave them a stomach ache” — the only reason I am stepping out is to help those men that died — and their loved ones- and the people effected by the Yarnell Fire who have all their life shifted due to this tragedy. There is much more to this day June 30th, 2013 than what was reported- much more.
I keep hearing this ridiculous argument, “they just wanted to fight fire and not sit by and watch it” Based on the photos that’s what they were doing? They were on a hot flank and moving forward, deciding to abandon the line is the big question.
Willis, the Prescott wildland fire chief, was in his pickup outside Yarnell, listening to the Hotshots’ tactical frequency, when he heard a garbled message from Marsh that he couldn’t quite make out. Portland Press Herald July 7
It doesn’t seem Chief Willis Was engaged with the fire. I wonder why he was “outside” Yarnell and listening to the GM tactical frequency?
Maybe, thought Willis, they’re just out of radio contact. Maybe, he hoped, his friends would walk out of that smoke at any minute. Portland Press Herald July 7
I asked the question if Chief Willis was SPGS1 and Mrs Collura answered YES. Mrs Collura, Is the fire department truck in Pictures 5 and 11 that of Prescott Fire Department?? Why would a Professional group of investigators insist GM was trying to re-engage the fire when Chief Willis, Blue Ridge, Mr Mcdonough and other resources were pulling off the fire??
The idea that the crew headed for the ranch to make an effort to save it holds no water, as it was identified as a safety zone which Marsh is credited as acknowledging. Safety zones don’t need defending, in my experience. It truly was a perplexing decision that will probably never be figured out. Maybe they just wanted to kick back in a more comfortable safety zone where they could conceivably get their buggies bumped to? I can admit to leaving the black as a fire blows up, heading to the crew carriers to move to a plusher safety zone, though not hiking through over a mile of green to do it. Maybe there is truth to what the conspiratorially minded have alleged, that a private cell phone call from an unnamed structure protection individual lured Eric to the ranch in a bid to engage ASAP? I really don’t know what they could have possibly been thinking.
Why the shortcut though? They could have stayed on the ridge. As it was Marsh led them down into a box canyon with no way out, supposedly to protect a ranch that didn’t need to be protected. In doing so he lost sight of the fire. What was so important that they needed to take the shortcut? Unless of course the mysterious PFD wildland chief ordered him to do so as part of his structure protection job?
a race that couldn’t be won.
Incredulous, do you believe the theory that the ranch *seemed* much closer than it was, and it *seemed* like an easier hike than it was? So hiking a mile through the green is not necessarily what the group thought that they were going to do….
Also, do you believe that there was a call? If you had to pick a reason for why the guys left, based on your experience, is that what you would pick?
Maybe the Ranch looked closer, but I doubt it. You have to understand that Eric and Jesse were no neophytes. At that level of experience you become an expert at judging distance and the time it may take to cover it. It is a skill used literally every day on the line for evaluating escape routes, estimating time to complete a section of line, etc. And this was in country the crew would have been very familiar with. No idea why they didn’t follow the ridge. I think there is a good chance there was a call made, but I have no evidence to back up that claim. I can say with certainty that no IHC that I worked on would have followed Eric that day, and no Superintendent I worked with would have made that call. I find it hard to believe Eric himself would have made the decision to leave the black un persuaded. His relays with Frisby (the Blue Ridge IHC) supe indicate that the crew was going to pick their way through the black back to another safety zone. This, of course, is not what they did. What the crew did was 180 degrees off from what they told Blue Ridge. A misunderstanding, or was a call made in the interim which changed Eric’s decision?
Arizona State Forestry Division cover up
Really? If that’s the case then the Florida Forest Service, the USFS, BLM, Missoula Fire department and the others from many agencies who put the report together are all complicit in it. Why is it a cover up? Because it doesn’t flat out state “this man caused the deaths through his actions?” The report seems to put the facts out there pretty well and we can all draw our own conclusions. Do we really need it to say such and such a fire fighting rule was broken when we can read between the lines well enough on our own? Personally I applaud it for its extensive section aimed at getting other firefighters to think about the decisions made and apply to their own experience as a learning experience rather than using the report as a stick to beat someone with in a criminal prosecution or personnel action.
As a veteran of three Hothsot crews (Dalton, Tahoe, and Redding) leaving the black makes no sense. If you look at the videos shot by Chris Mckenzie at around 1600 the crew was in the black and the flaming front was well below them. They could have stayed in that position and survived. The radio transmission on the video indicates that Sup Marsh had observed the flaming front crossing two track road that the crew walked in on (which is also seen in one of the pictures in the report). This indicates that Sup Marsh who was serving as Division A was to the North and West of the crew when the wind direction changed at started to push the fire to the South and East. So the travel route back to the crew carriers was cut off.
Just doesn’t add up that the crew would leave the black. Had TO BE A REASON WHY THE MOST FUNDAMENTAL RULE OF SURVIVING ON A WILDLAND FIRE OF USING THE BACK AS A SAFETY ZONE WAS VIOLATED. This coupled with the 30 minute communication gap points to the theory (and if you read between the lines) that crew was ordered or asked to leave the black.
In the end Sup Marsh violated the number one rule taught to me by one of the greatest firefighters in North American history, Sup Rusty Witwer of the Tahoe Hotshots when I was training to be a Crew Boss. He said “When you are the first person out of the bus and everyone walks behind you your number one responsibility is to make sure everyone on the crew makes it to Thanksgiving DInner with their family.”
Let’s go back to fighting vegetation fires the old school way – one foot in the black and one foot in the green and flank the fire.
In the words of another North American wildland fire legend, Mark Linane, “It’s a simple job with stupid rules made up my bueracrats. Seperate the black from the green.”
RIP GRANITE MOUNTAIN.
Thank You for your post. With 24 yrs in this business, 5 as the crew boss of a T2 hand crew, and 10 as a 200 level trainer. I’ve been wondering where we have gone with our tactics over the past decade. As a trainer, I have been repeating this phrase for the past few years. “Let’s Get Back To One Foot In The Black”
…and thank you for continuing to beat that drum!
I was at arm’s length from the wildfire community for a while, starting mid-1990s, and I have not been making much sense of the meme that indirect attack is somehow safer. I don’t know quite who promotes that, nor why, nor why it seems to sell — but it sure seems to be looming larger.
There’s a time when only indirect is sane, but my paradigm remains, “Go direct if you can. If you can’t stay direct, use Safety Zone #1 (hard black) when you can. Because when those options are closed, Fire Orders and Watch Outs are going to start raining down all around you.” Stay true.
However, in the current case they had made their safety zone. Something else was driving the end game. RIP
Oh yea, the black and the green.
Michael, you are exactly right in relating your Hotshot experience to this situation. I can only imagine what Linane would say about this! “Safety first, last, and always, Sport!”
But yes, it makes no sense whatsoever that they left the black. They were in a safe spot, as were their crew carriers. The crew hauls weren’t even at the ranch! Why hike a mile plus to an alternate safety zone, only to be stuck without your rigs anyways?
Thank you. It just doesn’t make any sense. Maybe the second report will bring out some new information. But we, i.e., that is the current and past Hotshot community must continue to ask the tough questions.
10 years FS firefighting, we were taught from the start, one foot in the black. Never go down hill above a fire and never trust unburned fuel between you and the fire. How many of the 10 standards and the situations that shout watch out were violated. Not just by the overhead fire managers, but also by the crew superintendent and captains. Mann Gulch, Luke, Decker, South Canyon, Esperanza and Yarnell hill fires all have the same problem. The crew that got burned should never have been where they were in the first place. That is first the fire manager’s fault, then it is the crew supervisor’s fault. Fire weather is always changing, it is never to be trusted, so why take the chance, especially after the look out had pulled out after his trigger point was reached by the fire?
Well stated Gary after 33 years as an FS firefighter the things you stated kept me safe and I am now enjoying retirement.
The GMIHC 19 were true WFF hotshots and not coming from a “structural culture”. Several had served on USFS crews. The Sup/captains also had walked Storm King Mt., and were instructors at the annual Arizona Wildfire and Incident Management Academy. They knew the 10 and 18 in their sleep.
Where they were in the black was very steep and rocky, a boulder-strewn slope with no good place to deploy, if needed, anywhere.
Why did the State ICT4 take eyes off the crew?
“True hotshots” do not include crew members who had NEVER fought wildland fire. I don’t care how you spin it, but I very much doubt there is any federal hotshot crew with any rookies, much less the number of inexperienced FFs on Granite Mountain. And I come from a structural background, and that move from the black to the ranch was classic, old school structural aggressiveness..
Most IHC crews have rookies on them. That’s how you build good firefighters, by training them from day one. And not all IHC crews are created equal. I have worked with many that fit in the ‘elite’ classification but as well there are some that are not as good as some contract Type 2 crews. I’m not making any judgment on GMIHC, just speaking in general terms about the industry.
One of the things that jumps out from the report is the statement that they were fully qualified, without explanation as to how checklists and so forth for qualification were met. Since prior reports raised real questions about meet certain qualification standards, it would have been good if this report had addressed that question with some detail, rather than stating a conclusion with no explanation.
TAC Smith: you’re thinking like the structure firefighter you admit to being and not like a longtime or career ‘stump-jumper,’ and I wonder if whoever made the decision to bump to the ranch was thinking in the same disparate groove… because a strictly wildland entity (that is, not tied to/trained for structural ff practices) should never traverse such extensive green on a fire that already has “squirrelly” weather and fire behavior as the Yarnell fire had. That is absolutely asking for trouble. Then again, I was taught in the ‘one foot in the black’ and the ‘black is the first safety zone’ school like some others here.
As for “true hotshots,” how do you think rookies get experience as a hotshot? Every hotshot was a rookie once – whether they started on the engines or hotshots, Federal or otherwise, is irrelevant. Initial attack (aka engines) can be just as risky/dangerous as what the ‘shots do.
Your assertion about “true hotshot crews” is incorrect (perhaps you’re thinking of smokejumpers?). ALL ‘shot crews have rookies at one time or another, and perhaps anywhere from one to four in any given season – rare is the crew that has all experienced (2+ years) firefighters. It happens, but not all the time. Turnover from season to season is high – and the ‘shot life isn’t for everyone.
Case in point: I started on the ‘shots – Del Rosa – right out of high school, an 18 year old city kid who’d never hiked a step in my life. And I will tell you that my sup (retired for many years now, but a legend in the hotshot/fire community) and captains would not have ever let me or any other “rookie” out on that line without appropriate training, gear, or supervision.
My experience of wildland fire is that of southern California, fighting fire with terrain just as ugly and potentially deceiving, fuels just as explosive, and fire behavior just as extreme as seen on the Yarnell Fire… just almost *all the time*, whether on my home forest or in the region, and with extensive urban interface complications (that have only gotten worse in the last 15 years with the explosion of new developments), plus the fun of the yearly Santa Ana winds.
I have squeaked out of a burnover incident and prayed hard in the wake of same when a fellow engine crew was entrapped (and survived; no deployment – just got into the black as far and fast as they could). In recent years, I have attended the memorial of a LODD I knew personally, and hope to never attend another. And between this and the Esperanza reports, my eyes and heart are sore and I’m tired of weeping for the losses the fire family has suffered.
That said, I’ll echo another commenter here and say that no supervisor I worked for in all my years would ever have taken their crew on an *unscouted* shortcut, especially one that would have made us blind to the fire’s behavior. That’s a #1 big nasty red flag (especially after the lack of communications that occurred, which is so bothersome as well). That, to me, was the one surprising finding for me in that report. I also knew from the second that the media published the distance photo of the chute in which they perished that they didn’t have a chance – it was as if God used a grader, it was so perfect: a classic box canyon, a grade-A chute, that even without the extreme fire behavior survivability would have been chancy, as it’s a natural chimney for winds and the path of the fire.
In the end, nothing will ever change the fact that wildland firefighting is inherently very dangerous, and incidents will still happen even if firefighters follow the 10 & 18 to the letter.
May the Yarnell 19 rest in peace, and let’s pray something like this never happens again.
Where they were they would have had no reason to deploy they had over 400 acers of black to get into. As for the 10 and 18 they were violated as on all the other fatality fires.
It isn’t an IC’s responsibility to have every crew or resource within eyesight. It just isn’t possible or necessary within the ICS structure.
I see nothing wrong with the black in the video shot at 4 PM. They could have easily survived without a deployment.
The findings in the report should not be misconstrued as human error, per se. They should rather seen from a human factors and socio-technical systems perspective:
Miscommunication; poor shared situated understanding; impoverished distributed and inter-team situated awareness; challenges to recognition primed decision making; radio / communication problems. Some of these topics were discussed by #hvhf in this post: http://hvhfsciences.blogspot.com/2013/07/preventing-tragedies-in-wild-land-fire.html
Several comments have mentioned cell phones. The report does mention texting by crew members, but nowhere that I can see states one way or the other whether cells may have been used, or not, as part of the relevant decision-making processes. Particularly for a day where there were radio issues, and where there’s a breakdown in communication one way or the other, cells are a reasonable thing to look at. And, whether calls or texts were made or taken is something that is knowable, even if the contents of calls may not be known. That may be something that can be clarified in the future, even if this report overlooked it.
Arrived near a brush fire on the California coast that was about one hundred acres on top of a ridge. We where instructed to hike up the right side on a dozer line. The fire was above us, about a 2000 feet hike to get to the fires edge. I was the Captain of a CDF fire crew of seventeen, this was my thirty-first year as a wildland fireman. About half way up the dozer line we where instructed to move to the other (left) dozer line also leading up to the fire. Instead of going down hill and walking up the left dozer line I had the brilliant idea of cutting across mid slope in four feet brush. The fire was on top of the ridge, lots of retardant and I could hear the dozers laboring away. The sun had disappeared over the ridge the smoke was light and going straight up. So we started “pushing” our way in the brush to the other dozer line (left) side, about 800 feet? I noticed that the deeper we got into the brush that my web gear seemed to be holding me back, thicker brush? About mid point, I could feel a light cooling on my sweaty face. The other dozer line was not getting closer quickly enough. I told the crew to “on the hump”, pick up the pace. The light breeze within seconds turned into a down slope wind of 20 plus m.p.h. (SUNDOWNER)! The fire jumped the retardant lines and dozer work and now was racing down on us with fifty foot flame lengths. In training we discussed running for your lives, jettison all your equipment and web gear and run toward safety. I gave the command “JETTISON X3. I could really feel the heat and hear the roar of the approaching fire. Ran we did hit the dozer line turned down slope toward a valley where fire equipment was being staged. Yep lost our tools and equipment, but we were save. As air tanker pilot and author Dean Talley said in his book. RISKY BUSINESS.
Johnny, thank you so much for sharing your story!
I agree with the posted who stated we can all read between the lines on this report. Hell, you could parachute through them.
1. The investigation team was HUGE. *WHY* didn’t they take the time to get the cell phone records from each of the 19 men, so that they could see whether there were calls or texts to SOMEONE who survived who might be worth interviewing? Moreover, remember that texting while on work time was cited as a cause for the 2011 AirMethods emergency flight helicopter crash. I was not thrilled to see that several of the 19 men were texting throughout the day. Surely they instead should have been pouring every thought and attention into the fire….
2. In Chris (McKenzie?)’s video, where Marsh and Steed are speaking to each other about the rapid pickup of the fire at roughly 4 p.m. (when Marsh is out scouting), they both sound pretty unnerved. Did anyone else get that impression, too? So, it is entirely possible that the notion of staying in the black while the fire got pretty darn close to them or burned right over them was unpalatable. Someone here said that the black that they were in at 4 p.m. was 400 acres, but I did not get that perception from the report.
You’re right. Eric and Jesse’s cell phone records need to be looked at for that day. To understand what happened it is imperative to understand all possible communications that went on. We use cell phones all the time on fires these days, particularly for long conversations or sensitive issues.
Texting during down time? No problem. In many areas of life, people will also use the cell to say things they don’t want in email or to broadcast via public media like radio.
I’m sure they do have access to cell phone records. Whether they looked at them is a different thing. They could have looked at them and then simply omitted to note that “there is no there there” in their report. Or, maybe not. It is definitely something someone else should follow up on.
Situational awareness, technologically speaking, is a piece of cake. The military has impressive battlefield awareness technology. Why can’t the wildland fire community?
Look at these 2 websites. This one shows where any Washington state ferry is within 15 seconds realtime:
The next site shows where most airliners are in realtime worldwide:
Click on any plane and see track history, speed, altitude, aircraft make/model, flight #, etc
(this site is handy to know where you flight is)
Technology can be an incredibly useful tool for all manner of situations. The units you desribe on the ferry and aircraft all weigh in at several pounds apiece. I know this is no excuse but in trials that were attempted over the last several years, the tracking equipment needed to give a 24/7 signal are pretty heavy. FF’s and IHC’s carry a lot of equipment while fighting a fire. Pulaskis, shovels, hand held radio, fire shelter, water water and more water, food, hard hat, PPE, back up PPE (extra gloves), their boots, and so on. How much more equipment is a FF equipped to carry and still do their job effectively? There are several fire knowledgeable units that are technologically AND wildland fire savvy, working on this very problem. Weight, effectiveness, battery powered, and affordable are ALL terms we are coming to grips with. New radios ahve the ability to give a location every time they are keyed. But someone has to key the radio and the receiving system has to record that data burst. All problems, again, that the USFS and BLM, and other fire agencies are working to figure out. There is an axiom (or truth) that I have learned in my 30 years of fire fighting and technology development, “Just because you saw it on TV or in a movie….doesn’t mean it’s real”. Every single one of us in communications for the USFS, BLM, and other agencies ARE working really hard to develop these “man tracking” systems. Of course, funding is always the biggest problem. My two cents. RIP brothers…you’re missed.
Thanks for the info, Woody. It’s good to hear that someone’s working on this. Keep us informed of progress in this area.
Any idea what became of the USFS’ proposal to purchase thousands of personal satellite-linked tracking devices?
I’ve got one of the “Spot” devices. Unfortunately, the software and phone lines in our dispatch aren’t set up to use it yet. Not sure how other Forests have implemented their “Spot” programs yet.
Edited to add: The black that they were in before they moved was indeed over 400 acres, according to the report.
I haven’t seen it mentioned anywhere that the Granite Mountain Hotshots was an all male crew. Would things have turned out differently if one female firefighter had been a voice of reason and said “You guys are nuts, I’m not going down there!”.
What you are suggesting — that someone basically opt out in a way that could be fatal for their future with the crew — is something that I’ve not seen tied in a credible way to whether someone’s a man or a woman. This ties in tangentially to one of the comforting myths that seems to have sprung up, namely that all members of the crew willingly, voluntarily assumed the risks to which they were subject when they hiked down into that box canyon, through 8 foot high highly flammable chapparal, with the wind blowing in their face. I don’t think there was a vote and I don’t think there was individual analysis.
A junior member of the crew? You do what you need to do to belong, including listening to those higher than you in status and going with your group. That’s true for men and women. And, that was true in other fires like Thirtymile with female fatalities.
Absolutely. What civilians don’t understand is that if you are just a crew member on a Hotshot crew, you really have no say in anything let alone major decisions. Hell, on some crews even squad leaders and captains or the foreman have little say. You follow Supe, because you trust in his/her leadership, experience, and judgement. A rookie crewmember doesn’t know a box canyon from a hole in the ground. Which makes this all the more tragic.
Just this spring, I was training to all of my students that we have forgotten our lessons. We had forgotten storm king – heck most of those firefighters were in diapers when that happened. We have forgotten Esperanza, we have forgotten 30 mile. WHY? We train, we watch videos, we take staff rides; but then we go back to work on our fires that are so bungled up with management issues that we can’t stay focused on our main purpose – GOING HOME! What am I talking about? The fact that we do not remember that those firefighters on storm king did not question the assignment and that was the biggest lesson learned for all of us that were part of the active community then. That is where we created FFT1 material. We had years of quality firefighting that started to question and question again. We have forgotten. Now, I am sad that we will not remember officially; but I have faith that the firefighters in our community will once again – QUESTION your orders and help your bosses stay on track. They are humans too. We all get tired, we all need to keep the communication going.
… The problem with communication – Is the assumption that it has been achieved —-
I am just amazed at some of these accusations and assumptions being made following the release of this report. Why does there have to be a specific person to blame or some hidden conspiracy theory for people to be satisfied? The majority of work in wildland firefighting is based on calculated decisions. This was one of those decisions that was miscalculated, and those people making those decisions paid the ultimate price.
Firefighting is risky and any firefighter who has been in the business long enough, especially on a type 1 crew, has taken some risks that they can look back on and say “wow, we were lucky there, if the wind would half shifted or if some other factor would have lined up differently then who knows what could have happened. Unfortunately, this was a worst case scenario where things lined up in the worst possible way, and those risks became a reality.
Saddened – yes, it is a shame that there are some who want a name and/or decision directly tied to the fatal event, but it’s much easier to understand than abstract theories about Leadership and Hindsight Bias. We know the names of the players, just as we knew those on Mann Gulch and South Canyon: talking about what those folks did or did not do brings home the all-important Lessons Learned that may save the lives of future wildland firefighters. These are real-life scenarios that most of us can relate to, and unfortunately may reflect on the reputations of those lost. Lots of businesses are high risk: police work, washing windows on high-rise buildings, mining, logging, and yes wildland firefighting: the way we reduce the risks and make the jobs safer is through full and open disclosure about what happened to kill our co-workers! Please, don’t condemn the questioners – they may be our strongest friends to prevent another “Yarnell”.
The thing is, things were lined up before they started to move. And I know that Eric was an astute enough firefighter to realize this, as was Jesse. Calculated risks, yes, but their movement was more like Russian Roulette. 2 miles of open, hot flank pushing to the East and winds calling to start moving out of the Northeast, and they hike in front of it? No IHC does that.
Exactly, that’s why the report does not make sense.
This report is no surprise. In today’s world, we want easy explanations and heroes. When I was on a crew and we got a dumb assignment trying to protect undefensible structures or building direct line mid-slope with trees falling, we would joke and ask if we would be called heroes if we died doing stupid things. This is the course all recent investigations and FLA’s have taken. No body wants to assign blame, ie Steep Corner, bucket extraction. That’s fine, we don’t need to hang anyone, but to learn from something we have to admit we made a mistake. Then we have to attempt to understand why the decision was made. No body goes to work in the morning and decides to kill his crew. The decisions we make are shaped by our experiences (what we have gotten away with) and what we have been taught ( I would say 10 standard orders, but I guess those are optional now.) I did like the discussion section and some of the questions posed, but I have one more. Do you think if someone other than their superintendent was the division, that they would have left that safety zone? I think if it was someone else they would have told him/her where to go. The crew that I was on had an unofficial SOP of taking fireline supervision positions away from the crew. Our decision system only works with people at different levels questioning decisions not blindly following into a box canyon. One last thought for the “go direct all the time” crowd. After a fire escapes initial attack, direct methods are rarely successful unless you get a significant change in fuels or weather. Too many times to count I have had argue with supervisors against banging our heads against a wall every day (going direct) and not gaining any ground, or back off to land feature where we have the upper hand. Not a direct quote, but Sun Szu said fight your enemy where you are strongest, not your enemy.
point 1 – overhead should be separate from crew. This keeps the checks and balances working and helps us all stay focused.
point 2 – yes going direct does not always work. But there is a whole group of firefighters that have never had the term “one foot in the black” in their vocabulary. It is important to realize that the safety of the black can handle all kinds situations. Just knowing that phrase and those tactics.
point 3 – Good firefighters may have to bang their heads to communicate with others. Please don’t ever stop doing that. It is communication and it is necessary.
point 4 – The Art of War is one of the best firefighting manuals ever
Back to “Incredulous”: In the below-linked video, the old-timer mentions that the trek to the Ranch that the Hotshots had left the black to head toward *looks* far easier than it really is. The old-timer says that it is only when you get down into it that you realize that some of the brush is so bad that you have to essentially crawl *under* it “like an animal” (in his words). Is it possible, then, that Marsh and Steed (who sounded really spooked in Chris Mackenzie’s retrieved video clips) just grossly underestimated how quick and easily they could get to the safety of the Ranch?
Here is the link: http://www.kpho.com/story/23261486/witnesses-to-yarnell-hill-fire-break-silence
Elizabeth, that could be. I will be heading to Yarnell myself to trace the route took by Granite Mountain to help me understand.
Incredulous: If you are willing, please consider taking lots of photos on your trip and then posting them. You can post them as “Incredulous” on Flickr – you do not need to use your real name. Someone posted photos and an explanation of the layout of the photos for the Mann Gulch tragedy, and it was very helpful, in terms of fully appreciating what the men were up against. It seems to me that there are two key questions that maybe your visit to Yarnell will help clarify:
1. The Black: Was there a reason *why* the black that the men were sitting in at roughly 3:55 could be viewed as sub-optimal? If it was only all boulders, for example, or it was “too steep,” such that it would be difficult to deploy shelters there, that might explain why Marsh thought it prudent to try to get to the Ranch. It is clear from Marsh’s recorded exchange with Steed (that is further up this page) that both men were concerned about how quickly the fire was moving and becoming truly massive. If they thought having to deploy was a good possibility, perhaps they thought the terrain of the black that they were in was really, really bad for deployment, such that they needed to get somewhere else, quickly.
2. Route To The Ranch: There are two questions here that a first-hand examination by Incredulous (or someone else who is knowledgeable) might address. First, from Marsh’s vantage point at the time he made his decision, did the Ranch look closer than it really was? Second, was there a non-obvious reason why the ridge-route (which some of you indicate would have gotten the group to the Ranch while still being in the black or at least having good eyes on the fire) was not desirable? Was that route blocked by huge boulders, too steep, etc.?
Incredulous, Godspeed. I hope you will share your perspective if/when you go.
Also, as a person who has served as an expert witness regarding various “investigations” in other contexts, I am troubled to see that the report has no list of witnesses interviewed.
Absolutely, and I will time the route they took.
most people are not aware but only officials and people who go with an official can retrace their route that day- MUCH of that area is state land restricted (hallowed ground) & privately owned. There is areas to get there yet you number one better know who is who’s property because you will see the Sesame Street they went in on is restricted as well as all private land/home owners WILL prosecute if you are on their property. Even the agricultural land owned by Maughan Ranch is restricted. There is ways up the Congress side but make sure you have either a state land pass or a hunting license-It is a very sensitive topic in town- people do not want folks out there- Fair warned you. I have a map of the 320acres state land restricted that Paxon sent me in July that you can get on their site.
the black area was not only ideal to remain in- it was near the helispot area we watched helicopters drop equipment and it was closer to the less fueled area (Congress side) — the black was already a safety zone- I was there. No reason to even go near the most unusually dense maze-like vegetation steep drop when you can walk the 2 way road/ridge to the end of the mountain top and drop off near the ranch- cattle pond area on border of ranch property and state land or stay in the black or like we did go to the Congress side for a bit than curve back over to state land towards the ol’ Cloudcroft area out either towards Candie Cane or Foothills- which keeps them in town versus completely dropping down to Congress
Yes, it did look somewhat deceptive. It was appx a mile- looks to be less than that and it was downhill. The angle and the vegetation were the key reasons in the end it becomes time-consuming. However, I was not deceived by it. Another thing that made it look tempting was the heat of the day versus hiking a steep incline to the top of the ridge in that heat and exhaustion of the day could of added to the deception-
Joy, Tex, or others,
Was there anything particularly distinctive about the brush in that particular box canyon? I understand Tex walked it with OSHA already post-fire. I think in terms of general experiences hiking through dense brush, it always makes the going quite slow. One person bushwhacking with gloves and no pack through dense chapparal maybe goes half or a third as fast as with only light brush. Just the pack slows you down more. A group of three all with packs and you are going maybe a quarter as fast as through light brush.
In terms of understanding decisions, I would infer that people local to the general area would already know that bushwhacking would bog their speed significantly. Would a large part of the brush present have been hidden from initial view? I believe this was 8 foot high or so manzanita?
Legally you are not allowed to retrace the Hot Shot Route. Google the Arizona State land restrictions at Yarnell. You can get a map and see that 320 acres are restricted to the public around the area where the men perished. We found that land to be restricted as of June 16 while the men passed on June 30. We have not been able to google that document again although both Joy and I saw it on line. We wished we had copied it now. Also if you want to go on the state land that will put you near the location of tradgedy, be sure to either get a state land pass or a hunting license. They charge for the pass and you will be fined if the authorities catch you without one. This is a shame on this state, since we by constitutional right have the free right to travel across public lands. It is just another way to tax and control people by fines and jail terms. It is also amazing to see how many folks that live here do not know about that law.
Also Maughan Ranch has most of that private land and they are real adamant to keep people off their property, Joy, a long term hiker could not get any permission, although we did go with OSHA whom was not denied permission. They are federal and could have taken license to go anyway in death investigations. In fact 67% of the land was private and less than 1% federal. That leaves 32% state land. If you get the restriction map you will see where private and state land lies.
You can come up the Congress side through state land OK. If you want to hike it from Glen Ilah, Yarnell, go to Candy Lane and walk through some private land belonging to Californian residents. It is legal as long as they do not put up no trespassing signs–just vacant land. Otherwise you will have to take the longer Congress side Hike, or the west side of the Weaver Mountains.
Yes I encourage it. Yes I am an old timer, 70 in December. And the older you get the less you know–maybe even the dumber you get in some cases. I am scratching my head as to why they did what they did. I think everyone who is in the firemans business should take the hike.
I might add, if you go you can go the route they did with an official. Now I do not know what official or what they mean by that? Could that be a sheriff, FBI or just a state official? That is beyond my understanding.
While you are at it, once you get to the top you will find some manzanita left in spots. Do a short stint though it just to get a feel of what they had to endure going down in that trap. I truly believe that some of those men, maybe most had never really endured going through that type of thicket for any length of time. Unless you experience the difficulty of manuvering that stuff you would not know the danger of getting entrapped during a wild fire situation.
Anything we can do to help we will. I am a free person, one of those who wanted cameras on top my wagon so the world could see the situation in Yarnell. I almost got arrested for that when we were the first to come back to Yarnell and after staying in the Prescott Yavapai College Gymnasium shelter for 7days. Joy and I had slept on a picknic table at Mountainair the night before so we could be among the first to return. As it was all media were denied entry at that time. What the hell happened to the first amendment and freedom of press, speech, religion, etc?
I think people are becoming too much automatonsized. Could not one of those 19 not object and walk off? Fortunately I did not obey Joy and take her route. So not to say another does not have the right to drastically risk their life, but when I see a high potential of death facing me, I can only try my best to get the others to do something differently. Apparantly those 19 were souls that were convinced that whoever was in charge and made the call was truly a Greek God or some tough Hot Shot who you never needed to question. We all err no matter how expert, so I always try to use my best estimations when dealing with the expert or boss. These firefighters that have been posting here have shown me I did use my better judgement here, although consider I had only one other experienced hiker to argue with. She is younger, and maybe tougher than I and I do often listen to her over my own thoughts, especially if it is not a dangerous decision. (for the sake of arguing?)
Read Josh EElls article, Men’s journal on Yarnell Fire. We had a great hike with him. Thanks for the Jaimison Josh and a nice article that gave us a good look at the personal side of this situation.
SRon October 1, 2013 at 10:40 am said: you can view the exact area they perished on the video if you google YARNELL HIKER and see Morgan’s video- it shows in some spots there was higher 8foot yet not where they perished-that flat area was more intertwined mazed-like manzanita 3.5-5foot
Forgive me – in posting my above comment, I did not realize that Joy and Tex (whom I refer to as the “old-timers,” since they seem to be from around Yarnell and very familiar with the ills) had already replied up above, when I mentioned them by name in my earlier post. God bless both of them for sharing what they saw the day of the tragedy at Yarnell.
I am very pleased with the quality of a large majority of these comments about the report. Obviously many of them are written by people who have wildland firefighting experience, some have been on hotshot crews, and others are very familiar with the area where the fire burned. They can relate to what the Granite Mountain 19 were doing that day.
Many of us are searching for answers and hoped that the report might uncover some lessons learned but there’s really nothing that leaps out at us, like, don’t work above a fire, or always post a lookout. The accident appears to have been the result of one or more very experienced firefighters evaluating a dynamic situation and making a judgement that it was safe to walk from point A to point B. That, and several other layers of decisions and issues aligned like slices of Swiss cheese to produce a very unfortunate result that many of us will never forget. And we shouldn’t.
At the very least we can honor the 19 by amplifying our efforts to make sure all firefighters go home to their loved ones at the end of their assignments. Spend a few extra seconds evaluating tactics. Think about the worst case scenario and how to mitigate it.
And let’s figure out ways to increase our situational awareness.
Thank You, Bill.
Taking the facts, and then applying them to our own situations is something I try to get my staff to do, both at the beginning of the season, and then throughout assignments.
It’s the only memorial I can build for these good men.
I’m sure that’s really no comfort for their loved ones.
Compliance with the Standing Orders were not evaluated in this report – why?
Why blame technology failures when the real failures were not learning from the past and ensuring that the Standing Orders were followed.
I consider this report to be a whitewash of the Incident Commander’s failure to order all crews to immediately withdraw when the significant wind changes were forecasted.
That decision should not have been left up to the individual crew chiefs.
Former USFS Smokejumper
Thank you Bill for your continuing coverage of this tragedy. We all will learn.
Firstly, my sympathies to everyone affected.
Secondly, coming from a completely different country with a different way of dealing with bushfire, please excuse my ignorance but why, in this day and age, are we placing firefighters of any sort on foot in remote country in the first place? If there is a need, how come they are not extricated at the end of their operation?
I have heard many stories of firefighters being bussed into locations, hiking into fires and hiking out again. Based on our dry firefighting methods, such a thing would be considered too dangerous. Maybe there is a better way to control wildfires other placing our people in harms way.
No disrespect to any of you. Just a thought.
Ned – The US has developed an increasingly robust, capable and expensive wildland firefighting force. Given this large investment there is the inevitable imperative to employ that force to the maximum degree possible. Sadly this often means placing firefighters in situations which are very dangerous simply because we have this capability. Some day the leadership will wake up and realize that it makes no sense to risk firefighters’ lives to protect either trees or unoccupied structures.
I have to disagree, to a point. For the last few decades I have believed that the aggressive potential and capabilities of Hotshot crews, or any wildland fire fighting unit for that matter, has been greatly reduced because of the litigiousness of our society…. the fear that somebody or a group of people will be put in harm’s way thus opening the door for suit. Ahhh, lawyers and big money!
I realize that wildland conditions have changed since I pounded the ground in the late 60’s and early 70’s. Again and again I see where we might have gone back then but now, crews are held back. The aggressive nature of the skilled Hotshot has been diminished.
I think is time to get back to basics.
I have a included a 2001 article called the “Original Intent” Ten Standard Fire Fighting Orders. We don’t break them; we don’t bend them.
The downhill line construction checklist has been whitewashed over and over again. I believe that originally, a downhill assignment required a IC present. Later a Division needed to be present when downhill construction took place. Now, I see TFLD or what just a competent firefighter. We need responsibility back into our fire line safety.
These IC’s are making the big bucks and the liability falls on the crew superintendent. What is that all about?
13 situations that shout watch out are now 18.
Safety zones? What about safety zones? Is one mile to much to travel to a safety zone. I guess we need to visit safety zones again.
“Original Intent” Ten Standard Fire Fighting Orders
For several years I have presented what I call the “Original Intent Ten Orders”. Fellow fire fighters have asked me to put the talk in writing. I hope that these orders will become your fire fighting foundation.
First. Throw away the listing of the Ten Orders as written in today’s literature. The Orders as written will compromise your safety. The present listing was developed as a catchy way for you to memorize the Orders. It will not help you in real world terms to effectively implement them. For the Orders to make sense, you must understand the original intent of the engagement and disengagement process. The Orders are in fact your rules of engagement.
The Ten Standard Firefighting Orders were developed by a Task Force commissioned by Forest Service Chief Richard E. McArdle in 1957. The task force reviewed the records of 16 tragedy fires that occurred from 1937 to 1956. Yes, both the Blackwater Fire of 1937 on the Shoshone National Forest and the Mann Gulch Fire at the Gates of the Mountains in 1949 contributed to the wisdom contained in the Ten Orders. The Fire Fighting Orders were based in part on the successful “General Orders” used by America’s armed forces.
Through my 29 fire seasons as a Fire Guard, Hot Shot, Smokejumper and FMO I have restructured only 2 of the orders to better fit the concept of engage and disengage as I was taught early in my career. I feel that my change in the order structure further complements the original intent of the authors. Remember the orders are designed to move up and down in sequence in an engagement and disengagement process. Understanding this concept should make sense to you through your personal, on the ground experience.
Know what your FIRE is doing at all times. This is the basic order that all orders fall back on. This order frames your fire in three dimensions. The reason why we all like to initial attack is because of the unknown. What is my fire doing? What is it burning in? Soon, the unknown becomes the known as we complete our size up.
Base all actions on current and expected BEHAVIOR of the FIRE. Your fire moves through the fourth dimension of time and space. Once you have fixed your fire through the size-up process, you must then begin to anticipate its movements through time. Current and expected fire behavior will help you do this. Your fire is not static. It will constantly move and grow until it is controlled.
Keep informed on FIRE WEATHER conditions and forecasts. This is the second leg of your prediction matrix. In the Rocky Mountains, weather will most often dictate where and how your fire will move.
Post a LOOKOUT when there is possible danger. You are close to engaging the fire with firefighters. But first you have to assure that your first three orders are not compromised. A Lookout will be able to tell you What Your Fire Is Doing. The Lookout can also take weather readings to help you predict where the fire is going to go.
Have ESCAPE ROUTES for everyone and make sure they are known (safety zones). This is your final order before firefighters can become engaged. If the fire situation deteriorates, you can always disengage to this order until the situation becomes clear to you.
Be ALERT, keep CALM, THINK clearly and ACT decisively. The final five orders deal with people. You must first be clear and calm in your own mind before you can lead others. If you are confused then disengage to order 5 until the situation is clear again. Remember that all of us no matter what our experience level will be confused and unsure of ourselves at times on the line. There are often just too many variables changing too fast for our minds to process. If you are confused, then disengage to your safety zone to watch and learn.
Maintain CONTROL of your men at all times. Now you are moving out of your own presence and out to others. This order goes directly back to Wagner Dodge and his smokejumpers at Mann Gulch. If the crew would have only listened to their foreman and his revelation about an escape fire we might not have those 13 stations of the cross. All of us have doubts and uncertainties. The leadership on the fire must understand the situation and make sure that it is communicated in a calm and orderly manner.
Give clear INSTRUCTIONS and be sure they are understood. If your crew is unsure, then take the time to re-evaluate and bring everyone up to speed. When in doubt, ask your firefighters to repeat the instructions until you are all on the same page.
Maintain prompt COMMUNICATION with your men, your boss, and adjoining forces. Good communications are a sign of maturity. I have reviewed dispatch check-in and destination procedures with my high school daughter. I have had limited success. As professional firefighters we must demand nothing less then the best possible communication. If your communication lines are broken, then start the disengagement process until the lines are open again.
Fight fire aggressively but provide for SAFETY first. I want to fight fire aggressively. I want to see the dirt fly. I want to move my crew around the fire’s head and cut the fire off. But, I know through experience that before I can fully engage, I must first satisfy the Ten Orders. If a safety problem arises at this point of engagement, then I must start the disengagement process. Safety is written all over and through the Ten Orders. I believe that the tenth order was written to emphasize the disengagement and not the engagement process. Even when things are going great (your crew is engaged and the dirt is flying), be ready to disengage back through the orders.
It is my hope that the Ten Standard Orders will be used as they were intended and not become just a list of items to be memorized by our field firefighters. I am not a saint. In my early years, I would tend to rush through the orders so I could aggressively engage. However, age and experience does change us all. I now submit, that the Ten Standard Fire Fighting Orders are the basic building block of our fire culture. All other fire suppression policy is based on these Orders.
I hope each firefighter will commit them to their heart, mind and soul. Be safe out there. This looks like a repeat of the “Fire Season from Hell”.
SHOSHONE National Forest
Like most of my articles and poems (on fire) I provide circulation first in The Smokejumper (originally The Static Line). The “Orders” were published in the October 2001 Issue.
The Forest Service at first gave no support to the idea, until Hutch Brown at Fire Management Today said “this is good – lets get it published in a more official format”. I could also count on the smokejumper brotherhood to get the ball rolling. A fellow jumper alumnus (Mike Apicello) pushed my write up from The Smokejumper at high levels. Mike was steadfast and pushed hard. I understand he gave copies of the article to anyone and everyone he could get to listen to him. If I remember right, the Interior Department Agencies (USNPS/BLM/USFWS) were very supportive. We also mailed copies through the computer system to anyone and everyone who would listen.
I had always taught our young firefighters the process I laid out in the article. The first publication (The Smokejumper) was the start in getting the orders back to their original format of what I believed to be an engagement – disengagement process. I also shared the article with Paul Gleason who was very supportive.
The Fire Mgt Today publication (at a later date) was edited to be more friendly in nature. Attached is my original write up as sent to The Smokejumper. (This Smokejumper version from 2001 is what we have here in the Archives. Ab.)
May 11, 2006
Karl I have my old hard hat from the 60’s that has a sticker in it that breaks the orders down into control, Safety and operations
and Fight Fire aggressively but provide for safety first. I always referred to it when things got tight. I believe it came out in the late 60’s or early 70’s. It is time to get back to the basics. Its to late to blame but never too late to refocus
“Why did the GM Hotshots move out of the black?” This is at least one of the key questions, as we all know. As I read and re-read the 122 page Yarnell SAIR, language on pages 23 and 24 troubles me, because it makes clear that everyone *KNEW* Marsh and Steed were thinking of moving and ultimately decided to move, and I feel like the recitation of the exchanges wherein Marsh and Steed are discussing leaving are incomplete. For example:
PAGE 23 (bottom): BR Supt. and McDonough hear the GM team say that they are in the black, have good eyes on the fire, and “will assess from there.” That begs the question – will “assess” WHAT? Presumably this quote means “will assess leaving the area of the black where the GM Hotshots were currently safely located,” yet did the investigators fail to follow-up on that question when they interviewed BR Supt. and McDonough?
PAGE 24 (close to top): McDonough (i.e. “GM Lookout”) heard Marsh and Steed discuss “their options, whether to stay in the black or to come up with a plan to
move,” but we are not told on Page 24 (or elsewhere) *why* Steed and Marsh were having this discussion. This is why I keep asking whether the black was somehow undesirable…. Otherwise, why even discuss “a plan to move”? Surely the investigators asked McDonough – who overheard Marsh and Steed talking on the intra-agency GM Hotshots frequency – why McDonough thought Steed and Marsh were discussing moving. What was McDonough’s answer? Perhaps Steed and Marsh *said* why they were were considering moving. Why doesn’t Page 24 say a single word about this point?
Page 24 (middle-ish): Multiple GM Hotshots text to their loved ones that the fire is escalating, making a “run at Yarnell.” These GM Hotshots are not texting to say “I’m scared” or “pray for me” or “I love you, babe,” unless they were texting these things and the SAIR just does not reveal this. My point is that these men are NOT suggesting that they are fearful of the area where they are resting (the black), which would explain why they moved. Moreover, these men are repeatedly making the point that they are well-aware that the fire is going toward Yarnell. Perhaps, then, they headed to the Ranch as a stop on the way to GET to Yarnell to start a defensive line there…. BUT…. THEN….
Page 24 (close to bottom): After SPGS1 asks about burning out from the dozer line, Marsh soon discloses that his GM Hotshot Team “are going to make our way to our escape route.” ESCAPE route. Can one of the firefighters here talk to me: if you tell others that you are heading for your “escape route,” isn’t somebody going to ask you WHY? Or aren’t they going to say “are you guys ok?” Or is there no time for that when an SPGS1 is busy in a huge fire? Also, who WAS the SPGS1 in this fire? Was that Ward or Wills or who?
Page 24 (close to bottom): The whole paragraph close to the bottom of page 24 is disturbing to me. How can the BR Supt possibly be confused about where Marsh was going? What other road at the bottom exists that Marsh would be trying to get to? Re-read the paragraph. Is it just me, or is it deliberately confusing? It states:
“As BR Supt is en route to pick up drivers to move the Granite Mountain crew carriers, SPGS1 contacts him to ask if they still have the option to burn out from the dozer line. BR Supt tells him no. [Marsh], hearing the transmission, agrees and says he believes the fire is almost as far as the Granite Mountain vehicles. A moment later, [Marsh] says, “I want to pass on that we’re going to make our way to our escape route.” BR Supt attempts to clarify, “You guys are in the black, correct?” [Marsh] responds, “Yeah, we’re picking our way through the black.” [Marsh] then mentions a road in the bottom and “going out toward the ranch.” BR Supt thinks [Marsh] is talking about heading northeast, through the black, to one of the ranches in that direction. BR Supt says, “[Marsh,] to confirm, you’re talking about the road you saw me on with the UTV earlier, in the bottom.” [Marsh] replies, “Yes, the road I saw you on with the Ranger [the UTV].”
Pages 27 and 28: It again is clear from Marsh’s addition comments that Marsh is moving the GM Hotshots, and he again uses the phrase “escape route.” Are the communications that he is having with ASM2 and OPS1 recorded? Has any media gotten copies of the recordings, if they are recorded? For those of you who have firefighting experience, do the exchanges mentioned in the language from the SAIR cut-and-pasted below sound like the type of exchanges one would have with a crew that is looking to ESCAPE?? I don’t know. Maybe everyone is too busy to have a longer exchange? The language I am referencing from pages 27/28 of the SAIR is:
“At approximately 1600, ASM2 overhears a comment on the radio referencing a crew and a safety zone. ASM2 calls OPS1 and clarifies, “I heard a crew in a safety zone, do we need to call a time out?” OPS1 replies, “No, they’re in a good place. They’re safe and it’s Granite Mountain.” They talk about flying over to check on the crew, but for now, they think the crew is safe in the black. Following this conversation, ASM2 hears [Marsh] announce on the radio, “We’re going down our escape route to our safety zone.” ASM2 asks, “Is everything okay?” to which [Marsh] A replies, “Yes, we’re just moving.” DOWN. He tells everyone he is going *DOWN.* Meaning, into the valley, where the GM Hotshots were ultimately trapped, no?
Did these exchanges catch anyone else’s attention? Also, the recitations on page 28 really trouble me. I cannot help but feel like some key details are being left out. Does anyone else get this sense? At the top of page 28, we are told:
“OPS1 tries to reach Granite Mountain: “Granite Mountain, Operations on air-to-ground.” Seconds later, Granite Mountain calls: “Air Attack, Granite Mountain 7, how do you copy me?” Some of the firefighters near the highway overhear this radio traffic. Hearing chainsaws in the background and the Granite Mountain crewmember’s increasing urgency, they are confused— the last they had heard, Granite Mountain was in the black. Less than a minute later, they hear: “Air Attack, Granite Mountain 7!”…”
Seconds later, we are told that Marsh calmly says that his Hotshots are deploying their shelters. ASM2 never drops the flame retardant because he cannot get the GM Hotshots to give him an exact location of where they are, after Marsh told ASM2 that the Hotshots were deploying. That raises my hackles. Pages 28/29 suggest that the ASM2 and an Air Tanker fly around for an hour or so after being told by Marsh the GM Hotshots were in big trouble (e.g. deploying) without dropping any retardant because they do NOT know where the Hotshots are exactly located. That does not sit right with me. Why don’t they just drop the retardant where they THINK the Hotshots might be, rather than flying around doing nothing when they know full well that Marsh is in a position where he thinks his men are likely to get burned to death unless they deploy? Even if the ASM2 could not pinpoint the exact location, what is the downside to dropping the flame retardant and hoping to get lucky, rather than dropping nothing and ENSURING that these guys do not get that extra boosted chance of survival??
Forgive me for posing these questions. If anyone has thoughts, I would love to hear them. Again, as a person who has participated as an expert witness in a variety of matters involving “investigations” conducted after huge debacles, the things that the report says and deliberately seems not to say leaves me very very uneasy.
Lastly, who have been the good mainstream media reporters on this fire, in your opinions? I am tempted to give one a call, and make some suggestions on records that should be sought by the media. Unless I miss my guess, much of the relevant material should be subject to FOIA.
wow, this is the crazies report I have read.
I belive they moved because they had earlier ID the ranch as a bomb proof safety area and thats why they headed there without looking at other alternatives. I also believe they saw the fire changing in size and direction they were to committed and thought the fastest route was down into the canyon but the fire moved too fast for them to get to the ranch. Just another scenario.
You raise some good points. First, remember that Marsh was serving as a division sup at the time. He answers to the operations section chief, not the structure protection group nor another hotshot sup. This is where I have an issue. A crew leaving a safety zone is a big deal. Before leading people out of a safety zone the level of supervision should be notified. In this case, the operations section chief should have been notified. Also, when taking a crew across country that you have not seen, most hotshot crew would call air attack to get an idea of what they were heading into.
Some of the other commo issues I think were caused by the chaos of the situation. In the report the conversations are taken in a vacuum, but imagine your radio is squaking nonstop, several channels going at the same time, one overidding the other. So, you are only picking up pieces of every conversation. You train yourself to pay attention to key words, such as your name and such, but you can’t catch everything.
The conversation overheard by GM lookout. Understand that a two year firefighter on a hotshot crew is not usually involved with a situation such as this and would have very limited knowledge into the subject. What bothers me is that since Marsh is Division they should be using the division tac channel to handle this conversation. If that happened more people would have been involved with the topic. This is common, but not correct, in a situation where the overhead is part of the crew. As I stated earlier this is another reason overhead from a crew should be assigned to a different location on the fire.
As to why more did not know there location, once again the report does not due justice to the chaos at a moment like that. The fact that ops and another shot crew that I am not sure was even on the same division double checked is amazing. Trying to describe a location over the radio with no maps is also very difficult. Also, trying to drop retardant on them would have been impossible. They were under if not in the main column. Maybe a SEAT plane could have maneuvered in, but no way a VLAT could. The would have been several more to the dead tally if they tried.
All good questions, but I have more. Why did they not notify there supervisor before leaving the black? I think had decide to go on their own under the radar. Also, Was Blue Ridge on their division or structure protection, and why were they using a different tactic (indirect vs direct). Was there a disagreement between the sups? Last why would they not call air attack before leaving on a unscouted route? I think this goes back to the first question, they were trying to operate under the radar
Karl has done a superb job of stating both how fires should be fought and the many defects in this after action report. Hopefully the media will shine some light on this elaborate cover up of command failure. There cannot be effective leadership without accountability. These 19 firefighters were killed because the Incident Commander, with weather warnings in hand, did not issue an immediate recall.
Here is the excerpt from the report:
“At 1402, FBAN receives a call with a weather update from
the NWS office in Flagstaff. The NWS informs him of
thunderstorms east of the fire that may produce wind gusts
of 35 to 45 mph out of the northeast. FBAN relays the
update to OPS1 and OPS2 via radio on state tactical
frequency 1 (Tac 1).
At 1526, NWS-Flagstaff calls FBAN with a second weather
update about expected thunderstorm outflow winds from
the north-northeast with speeds between 40 and 50 mph.
This update does not meet the NWS criteria for a Red Flag
Warning for this area. FBAN radios this second update to
OPS1 and OPS2 on Tac 1.”
Wind speeds between 40and 50 mph !!
GET OUT NOW should have been the message at 1527 !!!
Yet over an hour later we hear:
“Breaking in on Arizona 16, Granite Mountain Hotshots, we are in front of the flaming front.”
These were preventable deaths.
@Elizabeth, much as I hate the NYT, I thought that Fernanda Santos of the NYT did a good write-up overall. For all of these articles, though, the reporters seemed happy to basically repeat portions of the SAIR. If I were a reporter, I’d definitely want to know if cell records were looked at and, if so, what those cell records showed in terms of all texts and calls that day. (Likewise, if I were OSHA and hadn’t looked at cells yet, that is one thread I’d want to track down and nail down.) I’d also want to talk to a number of old hands and get a sense of how usual it is to, say, bushwhack downhill through manzanita as a means of going from A to B, particularly when other routes seem like they should have been faster. I’d want to know how the SAIR concluded the crew was fully qualified, etc. and whether the Dougherty article raised valid issues in this regard. I’d want to know what the light duty earlier in the year related to. The Outside article mentioned that some junior crew members were intimidated, and I’d want to track down whether that seems valid and whether management/command style may have precluded intelligent discussion of things like whether bushwhacking made sense.
Hello Elizabeth. I have to follow up on your post,because you touched on several points that just won’t leave me alone. The point at which I believe the series of events began to go downhill is the ambiguous radio conversation between Marsh and the BR sup. Why the confusion? Everyone on that fire KNEW that the 1st priority safe zone was Boulder Springs Ranch. They had that briefing at 0700 that morning. Why didn’t Eric March just state they were leaving the black and heading to Bolder Springs to re-engage? Instead he say’s, “yea we’re picking though the black towards the ranch house”. BR Sup thinks it’s the ranch located in the cold black. Here’s where it gets ugly. I believe Marsh wanted ambiguity because he had his mind made up to go to Bolder Springs Ranch. Now, the reason I believe he was so vague, is because he knew it was an unsafe maneuver and by stating his true intent, he would have most certainly met with resistance from BR and possibly an order to ‘stand down’ and stay in black. Marsh was going to do what Marsh wanted to do and that was exactly what led to this tragedy. This was not a radio problem,or a tone guard problem or an air support problem! It was a cognitive dissonance problem.(aka tunnel vision). Why no call to BR when they were on the ridge above the ranch? Just to communicate their location, and inquire about the fire. I am certain there would have been much in the way of warning and dissuasion. But at least people on the ground would have known where they were, ‘AND’ report on the fire behavior (which by then was becoming very erratic). Also ‘IF’ Marsh perceived this as risky, why no plan ‘B’? It was all or nothing. Plan ‘A’ or die. I am not looking to crucify anyone here. I just feel the only good that can possibly come from this is that maybe sometime down the road, and a SUP or squad boss has a single mind purpose or plan, he might pause and think of Yarnell Hill and GM and think,”maybe I should re-evaluate,maybe I need to have a back-up plan. I wish not to offend anyone here, we are all human and we all make mistakes. I just felt I needed to get this off my mind. Thank You All.
Safety zones are dynamic. When GM crew left the safety of the 400 ac black, they had no safety zone. A mile or so walk to a predetermined safety zone and calling the path a escape route is ludicrous. An escape route is determined by scouting and a timed route with little no obstructions. Escape routes should be a fairly easy quick walk to get to, otherwise another safety zone needs to be built. I think the Bolder Springs Ranch was something the fire team saw as a “bomb proof” is disturbing.
You have that right, although that Helms Ranch house was built fireproof, walls, roof and had a good clearance around the buildings. About 6% of the homes that had clearance burned while a much greater percentage of homes that had brush right up to the structure burned. If you google Wp=ooten and Morrison you will get a right on sceintific study of this fire that includes all the percentages and compares the results to other wild fires.
Of course the Hot Shots who have responded to this will tell you that they have no business concerning themselves with structure protection and definitely not if it at all involves a danger to life. I think we would all help a neighbor sprinkle his house if we were not going to get burned in the process.
It was interesting to google ten fires starting with the 19oeur d’Alene fire that killed 72 firefighters. In nearly every instance it was cited that wind changes came about due to cold fronts moving in–erratic winds were involved in each case. We watched the moonsoon cooling conditions that Sunday morning some 30 miles to the NE. That information of wind gusts to 50mph was relayed to Marsh, Willis, and I would guess all supes and maybe even the young ones were aware of. Not a good time to drop off into that manzanita, but then with a raging fire just over the hill when would you do that if you know your business? I think as an old mountain boy I just have that sense of mind. Willis talked about this being a God thing, well I suppose it is. Thank God he gave me sense enough to go another direction that day. I did notice that there is a movie on the Montana fire–Red Skys over Montana–yea to those brave smoke jumpers. Old Sonny here ain’t jumpin out of anything that requires a parachute. Hey, I did not mind dropping off 900 ft down a mine shaft and another few miles back on a train to my working place, but some of us have sky-phobia.
Listen to these Hot Shot men that do there work and have a number of years experience. They generally know the rules and would get damn upset if one of their crew were to break them. I sat down and figured we went through 3 miles manzanita at less than one mile per hour that day before reaching that trail the Granite Mountain Hot Shots took. That fire once it got down the mountain into the thick manzanita was said to be traveling at 11 mph. So it could travel 2 miles in about 10 minutes. I figured it would take near an hour to get to that ranch which was about a mile away. I wonder, since I never hiked in groups, did 19 men in line hinder progress through that as well? Ten minutes and the fire could be upon you or if a mile away about 6 minutes and you think you can transverse a mile in that amount of time? No Way Jose. Why I think every Hot Shot firefighter needs to basic train by transversing the thick manzanita for three miles or more so that he is so damned sick of that maze that he would never opt to drop off in that when safe in the black or could take an alternative route that is a trail and fast walking, climbing or even running is an option. We took the trail south that day, a steep climb to the ridge from where they dropped off but then we had sparse vegetation to the west side of Weaver Mountains. Even then with the trail and the safe route we took back to Glen Isle on the Congress side, that fire was right behind us and by the time we pulled into Yarnell the fire evacuation was in effect. A drive up the hill and we could see the thing blazing our way–only time enough to grab a neighbor’s 7 dogs, 2 cats and two parakeets and head out of there. The fire men and equipment were already congregated at the Ranch House Cafe– The knew what was coming to Yarnell.
I hope Joy posts the sign she photographed next the Ranch House Cafe. It tells what it takes to be a Hot Shot and is part of the memorial in tribute to the fallen 19. God bless you firefighters. You will go to heaven, had enough hell here. God doesn”t mind underground miners either–they will only stick around a few days anyway.
maybe Bill can edit your piece Tex (Sonny)- some typo errors- Wooten and Morrison did do an excellent job indeed.
Now you wanted me to write what is over at the MEMORIAL by the ranch house owned by Shelly & Steve- yummy taco salad at their cafe- the top sign there states: “You must take orders, and carry those orders out at all times, day after day…” That is some STRONG words-
was this what happened on this day; 6-30-13-
was there an order yet not documented or surfaced and is that why someone felt confident to state the “answer died with the men”…because to me- there is not enough transparency shown from not only the 9-28-13 investigation report but as well from the Granite Mountain team still alive today-
there has been too many avoidable tragedies in the US that ends up with no trial and no accountability and many unanswered questions and always blame and statements that THE ANSWER DIED WITH THE MEN—
I think of the loved ones- I think of the person(s) who are still alive who know more & how do they sleep at night?
just 4 small bushes on fire at coordinates 34*13.618W112*47.380 and the original lightning strike N34*14.54W112*45.29 as well as the base fire that was in direction to Peeples Valley-
— a containable fire when we were there 6-30-13 at the fire line early in the morning but a raging wildfire storm by 12:38pm.
I went to the fire station for updates Saturday and even told the gentleman I would be going to get a visual- I ran into a black bear that hike so I turned around on that hike Saturday than headed out Sunday- I care about my hometown as well as Yarnell community as well as the off the grid folks and wildlife and I hike it because I know people camp off the grid ways in the Summer to escape the Congress/Stanton heat so I did right and I always had communication/gps coordinates/kestrel readings from the start to the end. we were the only ones who decided to see where we stood on this fire to see where it was headed to share to the community- you can think about the assessed homes but what about the campers/rvers/tents- those folks I know by hiking- who was going to make them aware of the fire that if you hike the area due to boulderous terrain- you cannot see the fires so think about that too- Had I not gone out those lives they told me thank you for saving their lives. Oh and have you been to this community- a lot of elders and disabled so someone had to be looking out for them- ask Penny as we saved her and her seven dogs and 2 cats and 2 birds- I was there to save lives- not for the sake of hiking-
by the way we are not the only eye witness- there are others in town that compliment what we saw- thank God too. They watched it from Glen Ilah Boulder Tops so I am grateful God had that happen and that we are not the only ones with testimony-
Testimonies. they will surface as time unfolds if they want- the beauty of life- you can lay low and be private or speak out so that future wildland fires hopefully do not turn into the tragedy we witnessed up close-
Before you make too many judgments on the Yarnell Fire and whether correct protocol was followed please read the scientific journal done by Wooten and Morrison (Yarnell Fire) from pacific bio- it compliments what we eye-witnessed and lived 6-30-13.
I am sorry Tex actually I have 15 years hotshot experience in california if that make any difference. I am sure Bolder Springs has all the appearance of a “bomb proof” safety zone with clearance and building materials. But I stand by my comments. All I am trying to say is safety zones are dynamic constantly changing they require continual reevaluation. If a crew can not access a safety zone in a timely manner then we should not call it a safety zone. I believe that by calling Bolder Spring Ranch a “bomb proof” safety zone created this false sense of security.
If we call a high school football field in the middle of town a safety zone and a crew is working up on a fire miles away and cannot access that safety zone in timely manner than we really should not call it a safety zone. Does that make sense?
Another point they had chainsaws and cutting tools they probably used them to cut a path through that manzanita.
this is Joy- Tex (Sonny) will reply to you after he sees your message I am sure-
about cutting and sawing that area- it showed evidence of cuttings where they deployed but not yet has it been shown/seen any cuttings going down and we walked it with OSHA so we can confirm 2 areas they did do cuttings- near the Yarnell side of fire and the deployment area yet we will be out hiking soon with New York Times and I will recheck with zoom and binoculars that area- I have been hiking in a new area trying to find suicide hiker- Mark Danielson- he borrowed a loaded gun soon after return from the fire and headed to the desert is the word so our focus has been to find him. I will reply again if I find out there was more cuttings
from washington post-
9/29/2013 3:51 PM MST
As a former federal investigator here are a few thoughts I have on the AZ Granite Mountain Hotshots (GMH) report and more importantly, what isn’t discussed: (1) Will another report be generated that addresses the “causes…errors, mistakes, and violations”. (2) Where the communications “dead spots” verified? (3) Was the team in a dead spot? They appear to have good communications. (4) Did any GMH attempt to use their cell phones with position information? (5) Were any of these vague transmissions generated by outside sources? (6) What was the disconnect between the “Very Large Airtanker” and the GMH’s seven attempts to communicate? (7) What areas of “further analysis …of the wildland fire communications” is needed?
@Pfister: Get hold of yourself, man. Hotshot supes don’t take orders from another IHC supes. The DIVS on the fire at the time would not have got an “order” from BlueRidge. What ARE you going on about here? You think Marsh wanted to do what?
(JEEEZ. Monday QB at its worstest ……)
” … Now, the reason I believe he was so vague, is because he knew it was an unsafe maneuver and by stating his true intent, he would have most certainly met with resistance from BR and possibly an order to ‘stand down’ and stay in black. Marsh was going to do what Marsh wanted to do and that was exactly what led to this tragedy … “
I’m am sorry my post offended. I was really trying to pinpoint a reason,(some reason) as to why there was confusion as to where the GM hotshots were going. I personally have zero experience or knowledge of firefighting or crew workings. It’s just seems that their unknown location above the ranch,(Bolder Springs) left them vulnerable to the drastic change in the fire. The simple fact is, that if others knew their location and intent they would have had warning after they lost visual on the fire. Again I apologize for the wording. I guess I was trying to find out if this could have been a reason for the miscommunication. Also, I greatly admire all firefighters and their work, sacrifice and dedication. It is just very hard to understand how this tragedy happened to ALL these fine young men. Best of luck to all. RP
I know we only had a few chats with Eric Marsh 6-30-13 a.m. yet that man did not have the way to him that he would do what you stated. Eric came off that he was well conditioned and trained and had a passion for wildfire as well as the earth not structures- he came off to us as an earth/plants and animal man not a man who we told our directions and inquired to some of the best ways so he knew the best way to the fire from us and the best way out because I stated it three times- so what was stated at some formal briefing the man did get the informal knowledge of that terrain when we told him our direction back- I do not think this man was heading to the structure on his lead- I have no understanding of this and I do not think people should say negative views that have no resource/documented source- I mean you have a freedom and right to say your views yet please think to the families and loved ones reading this- its hard for me to read at times the folks who want to lay blame or misguide/mislead the public- the truth in time will be revealed in God’s time- with documented facts- not just life perceptions or someone stating this is what we investigated but not include the transcripts or evidence in report-
Hello. I recognize your name’s. Your the two hikers from the news video. You both seem like really nice people and that was very good of you both to come forth in helping with the investigation. And The point you made about “thinking of the families is well taken. I should have thought of that before posting. I guess there was a certain amount of anger and frustration on my part as to the ‘sense making’ of this tragedy. There were mistakes made on this fire with drastic consequences.They need to be addressed so as to try and prevent this from happening in the future. Anyway, thanks for your reply, and God bless you both. Rp
Rob Pfisteron October 3, 2013 at 11:49 am said:
Thank you for the updated reply- I get your anger-
I feel the only way to get through this for me is share what I eye-witnessed and in doing that I hope it provides answers or help for the families because the report was way too vague- and there is areas OSHA should read all these blog comments and see what the people and families are looking for and cover it in their investigation is our hopes- they were excellent men we hiked with-
Interesting information I found.
Yarnell Hill Fire: The Granite Mountain Hotshots Never Should’ve Been Dispatched, Mounting Evidence Shows
Lends more credence that maybe Granite Mountain was “ordered” to leave the black.
Hey Michael, It is good hear your thoughts on all this. The John Dougherty article is more thorough and sheds more light than all of Arizona State Forestry Division Serious Accident Investigation report.
page 17 SAIR: escape routes were back to the buggies or into the black.
Sorry. SAIR actual wording reads: escape routes will be into the black or back to the carriers. I have several observations to make and I will try to be precise when I refer to the SAIR or other first hand accounts that I have read, watched or viewed. I will not make judgments or speculate as I am not attached to the Firefighting Industry. I have developed a deep respect for you all and I hope my comments are appropriate.
That would make sence as they were building mostly direct line on the fire and some indirect cat line ajcent to the Fire.
The Daily Courier published photos in a story titled Final photos,videos of Granite Mountain come to light. I will list the pictures that are identified as happening after 1200pm 6/30/13 in chronological order, with a few observations.
Photo #6 and 7, taken at 250pm: The fire is not visible. Note the Hotshot on the right.
Photo #3, 4 and 5 are taken at 352pm. Pictures six and seven show movement and #5 shows sitting. The fire is now visible and please note how close it appears.
Photo #1 are taken at 402pm. They are sitting and note the apparent distance to the fire.
SAIR page 23: Figure 8. This photo is attributed to Chris Mackenzie and was taken at 1550. Note the landscape and distance from fire. The Hotshot sitting to the left is in other pictures listed above with different times( photo1 and 2 402pm)
Also note the red helmet that is Sneed that is also in last videos captured by Chris Mackenzie at 404pm (look below for more about video)
SAIR page 23: Figure. This photo is attributed to Wade Parker and was taken at 1604. Note the Hotshot and compare to figure 8.
FINAL VIDEOS (above) taken by Chris Mackenzie at 404pm. Marsh says something at the ten second mark of video that is almost inaudible (Please listen closely), Note the proximity of the fire at this point. Also note that they appear to be in the same position as in figure 8 of SAIR. Also note Sneed is looking away from the fire and to his right.
Photos taken at 1550 and at 402pm appear to be taken from the exact location. The video also appears to be taken from this area as well as the photo by Wade parker at 1604.
However; three pictures taken at 352 show a different location. Note again the distance to the fire
we have many kinds of investigators working on it even private ones because there is a way we will use Joy’s photos to prove the time is off on the camera and should not have been captioned with a time stamp as you noted the oddities— so many others have addressed us as well.
They did question what they were doing ( I have all of the reports from the survivors) things were different in 1994. I have hoped all these years that Levi and the other 13 FF didn’t die in vain and we could have learned from the mistakes that were made @ South Canyon but here we are talking about the same ol crap. If the investigators just put out the politically correct crap we will keeping doing this. FF’s need to know all of the contributing factors to learn and keep each other safe. After South Canyon I was left with the feeling that the USFS’s biggest problem was that they were going to have to hire 14more FF’s to take their place. Thank you for telling your FF’s to ask the question.
Everyone says we can’t forget, but we do. We must honor them by learning, but we don’t. Next year will be 20 years since South Canyon and Levi is still gone. FF’s make sure you ask the QUESTION is this the right thing to do.
Investigators, we need to know all FACTS we learn nothing from these “reports” if the names were changed they all would read pretty much the same. One other thing, think about the single FF LODD it’s sad, they are rarely even mentioned but those families are hurting too.
Ken, I am so sorry for your loss. I am sure there is still a knife in your heart even 20 years later. I cannot imagine that a father ever gets over losing a child. I agree with you on the investigation reports – in a different context, I have reviewed investigation reports for over 15 years, and I shake my head at the disservice done to other firefighters with a report as whitewashed as the Yarnell report.
Would you be willing to share the interview transcripts with me at maggiesnoot@ yahoo . com
Again, I am so sorry for your loss. Peace to you and your family.
Ken I feel and know your loss. This year was the 60th anniversary of the Rattlesnake fire where 15 Firefighters Died including my Father. I still went into wildland fire fighting with the USFS. Every time there is a fire fatality I ask when will they stop think and use the 10 and 18 on every fire. I believe the crews are getting too complacent. And yes everyone should stop and say hey boss we’re in a watch out mode are we following the 10 standards. They are all trained in it and they all are told to follow it.
It is regrettable that young fire fighters die under such circumstances.
When we fought remote fires back in the 80s and 90s in Nagional Parks in Australia, we always had a helicopter watching overhead and relaying fire and weather conditions to the ground crews. They were also briefed on what to expect on the day and worked from the black from identified anchor points.
We withdrew fire fighters from the fireground when fire conditions were considered unsafe to the work the fire. These were forecast well in advance and were in our crew briefings to be on watch out for these conditions on any given day. If we could not put the fire out we spent a lot of time working out where, when, and how to suppress the fire when conditions were in our favour and not on mother nature’s terms.
There is one element common in the Mann Gulch, South Canyon, Thirty Mile, and Yarnell fires – passage of a heat trough or a cold front which bring about unstable turbulent fire weather conditions. This combined with very low fuel moistures, <5%, can lead to rapid fire spread and blowup conditions.
It is wise therefore to watch and observe fire behaviour on such fire days rather than commit ground fire crews. We waited and observed fire conditions until we considered it was safe to work on a fire.
I also think that we need to really at the structure and organisation of IMTs so the we have experienced fire commanders in the field watching over the operations rather than having them in offices remote from the fire. We have ended up making decisions away from the fire based on virtual reality without a real appreciation and understanding of the ever changing fire environment.
There were observation helicopters–we were on the fireline at the top of the mountain and both photographed and videoed those observing the fire. We read in the report that command had them grounded during the 30 minute time lapse that communications were lapsed–(how can that be possible with cell phones?) It is said there was too much smoke and wind to put them back up until after an hour that communications were lost with the Hot Shot Crew that died. I am not a pilot but would like some helicopter pilots take on the situation. Sonny
Incredulous, Bill, Michael, and others with experience fighting these fires, I have a question (if you have time to answer it):
Why don’t wildfire firefighters always and only work (e.g. dig, cut-down, bulldoze, build their “lines” to stop the fire) very close to the TOP of a hill/peak that has only BLACK down the backside? Mann Gulch, Dude, and now Yarnell all happened when a crew was caught with no way to quickly escape back UP a slope. If crews ONLY work along the relative tops of slopes (with black on the backside of the slope so that the fire cannot “sneak” up on them), we would no longer have firefighers trapped halfway down slopes. I realize that this means that we would be allowing fires to burn out canyons under this scenario, but so what? Burns happen in nature regularly. Assuming that the canyons are not filled with people and houses, there is no downside to letting them burn while crews work hard on lines at the TOPS of the slopes that will stop the fire once it burns through the canyon and UP the slope.
What am I missing? Anything? Why *wouldn’t* this work as a general policy?
Each fire has a different suppression scenario. Some fires are easily suppressed in canyons and mid slope large fires can be attacked from ridge tops as well as roads canyon bottoms or flanks with a good anchor point one foot in the black etc. The end result is a fire line around the entire fire. Indirect attack is not always effective on ridges. Fires run at ridges and go over them. and sometimes jump fire lines. thats very simple and I am sure I missed something. Several fire courses will explain it further.
Yes, you are right ideally the tops of ridges are were you want to be. I have included some reference material that might help you.
Carl Wilson developed common denominators of tragedy fires
There are four major common denominators of fire behavior on fatal and near-fatal fires. Such fires often occur:
1. On relatively small fires or deceptively quiet areas of large fires.
2. In relatively light fuels, such as grass, herbs, and light brush.
3. When there is an unexpected shift in wind direction or wind speed.
4. When fire responds to topographic conditions and runs uphill. Alignment of topography and wind during the burning period should always be considered a trigger point to re-evaluate strategy and tactics.
Loop fire disaster http://www.fireleadership.gov/toolbox/staffride/downloads/lsr1/lsr1_investigative_report.pdf
Standards for Survival
Lookup Look down Look around http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ymCyCbJ9x7k&list=PLKTKgkFFQqWvmhk6-H-XzpMfB_0jgIKin&index=1
original 13 situations that shout watch out http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4cRFivGZRA8
Findings from the Wildland Firefighters Human Factors Workshop http://www.iaff.org/hs/LODD_Manual/Resources/USFS%20Findings%20from%20the%20Wildland%20Firefighters%20Human%20Factors%20Workshop.pdf
The Collapse of Decision Making and Organizational Structure on Storm King Mountain
Lookouts, Communication, Escape Routes and Safety Zones
Excellent references. Thank you for taking the time to do that-
I’m not a firefighter, just a retired U of A Aggie scientist, but I have decades of experience editing and teaching scientific writing. I read every word of this report then followed it up with the equivalent reports written after the 1990 Dude and the 1994 South Canyon Fires. You all have done a good job of dissecting what was similar about these 3 disasters, but after reading every single response, I still have a question about something no on mentioned. Please indulge me. In 1994, all the ff that died, whether they were overtaken or deployed their shelters, were found to be the ones that didn’t throw away their tools and backpacks as they ran. That appears to be the case in 1990, and it appears to be the case here. In both the 1990 and 1994 reports it was suggested that these ff may have been able to save themselves if they had dropped their gear. I thought that it was part of their training to do so, it is certainly human nature. So is what happened here evidence that the crew was dead set on re-engaging? It seems they dropped nothing until the moment of shelter deployment, resulting in total mortality of the unit. My research indicates there hasn’t been a total loss since the 28-man “Lost Crew” on Setzer Creek, ID in 1910. Didn’t that stand out to anyone else?
@Jeff Petrie, it stands out to me as a likely byproduct of the terrain trap (box canyon and dense brush) and nature of the lack of time once they realized they were trapped. Not ditching their gear and trying to clear what they could, could be a sign that discipline was well-maintained and a rational if insufficient response when there were no other options.
It does again beg the question of why going through that brush with a crew that big with gear was thought to be optimal even from a time perspective. To me, without more information, they could have been dead-set on re-engaging and it still would have made a lot more sense to take another route simply due to time and also due to the likely issues presented even by people getting cut or banged up during the bushwhack when other options were present.
This is Sonny Thanks Jeffrie for the inquiry. I want to know too why not throw down those packs? Well it would seem they were ordered to go protect those structures where they would need their packs and tools. I think that they did throw them down once they saw that fire headed their way. Consider that that fire was traveling at 11mph according to the state reports, and it was on the other side of the ridge, less than a mile away. They likely had less than five minutes to get to safety. Well from their vantage point it would have been approximately one quarter mile to where they noticed the fire was coming at them. I am speaking this because Joy and I were there at the very spot they perished early that morning June 30. Figure at 11 mph they had maybe two minutes to get away from that fire. Now we timed our self through that brush and we did less than a mile per hour— it took us about 3 1/2 hours to transverse approximately 3 1/2 miles of that brush. So you can see there was no way to go back up that mountain–Osha Marathon runner Brett timed going down with brush burned away at 22 minutes– so figure going back with brush to be more than double that time. The ranch was 600 yards so that too was at near a half mile at minimum a twenty minute dash– all was lost. Except to the north and to the south were boulders. I had Joy photograph those areas of clearing the trek we made with OSHA. If you look at the air photos of where they were you will see that they were in an area that had some clearing of manzanita. There were some places where it did have small clearings. I did wonder why they did not make a dash either to the North or to the South to get into those boulder areas. Her photos will show that there were large areas where nothing but bare boulders were available less than a hundred yards away-though climbing with 19 men might have been a problem. So keep at it Jeffries. We need all the help we can get solving the many mysteries here and what could have been done to save the lives of these men. It is what could have been done that will sink into the heads of people now fighting fires that might save their lives. For me in this situation I actually chose a bouldery area to go down on at the south end of the Weaver Mountains. The reason I did was so that in case that fire caught up with Joy and I we would have a ready made safety zone in those boulders. Fortunately we had that ridge top and could watch the fire behind and move along relatively fast–actually that fire trail that was made years ago– then off the south end and onto a gravel road for the last part to get to our vehicle parked along foot hills road. Shortly after, the large tree our car was parked beneath burned to the ground. I think the fire actually surpassed the 11mph mark sometime after it overtook the Granite Mountain Hot Shots.
@SR & Sonny, I think we’re on the same wave length. As I said, I’m no firefighter but a lifelong hunter & prospector in my own backyard, Units 21 & 22 (Mazatzals), as gnarly and deadly a wilderness as you will find on the best of days. If you once experience trying to bushwhack full-grown chapparal (Arctostaphylos pungens, Quercus turbinella, Acacia greggii), that alone will cure you of ever trying it a second time, am I right? I mean sometimes you’ve GOT to crawl in there to retrieve a kill, but these men being “experienced” local woodsmen should have already KNOWN the difficulty. It beggars belief that they would have voluntarily marched into that thicket fully outfitted unless they had direct orders to do so.
What blasphemy!!! Add it to the National Guard mission?
Doesn’t the USFS want their “own ” UAV mission? Don’t they want to duplicate an already made mission doen by the NG, NASA, or other available contractors?
You know so they can operate the mission without the FAA Commercial/ Instrument qualifications for the larger UAV’s…
Yes I agree with you…the USFS wants its own infrastructure. Mind you, they can not even improve an already messed up LAT program and yet they want to have their own …so they can save all that time of requesting from other agencies.
Sim…..can you answer me where the LMA’s are going to get the USD’s to operate UAV’s let alone LAT’s
Yes give the mission to the Guard or NASA…they already have TRAINED UAV operators…we don’t need more amateurs running around in the National Airspace System……especially those without FAA flying quals…which you can not get in ANY S or I courses anywhere!!!
There is a reason to investigate and report fireline errors in as much specific detail as practical — Fire Orders and Watch Outs disregarded or misapplied, observations misinterpreted, decisions that didn’t work out, communication mishaps, strategy and tactics gone awry. Even, or especially, the tragic errors.
The reason has nothing whatever to do with fixing blame or responsibility for bad outcomes. In my view, a person engaged on the fireline is virtually *never* to blame or responsible for bad outcomes (I’m sure it has happened, but the most examined cases that we are most familiar with are not).
At worst, fireline personnel might sometimes fail to overcome the powerful combination of natural forces with the willful or negligent irresponsibility of those who cause firefighters to be in the wrong place at the wrong time under the wrong conditions for safe firefighting practice.
The responsible individuals, the ones to blame, the ones not much examined by investigators or media or plaintiff attorneys, are rarely physically close to tragic firelines. They are the individuals who fail to adequately train, fail to adequately supervise, fail to adequately lead, and fail to adequately produce the changes in organizational and professional fire culture needed for everyone to come home. Secondarily responsible are all the rest of us who fail to demand accountability for such behavior.
But the firefighter who picks the wrong safety zone, or the wrong time to move or loses control of crew? Nah. That’s not responsibility or blame. That *is* tough breaks. Blame lies far back along the trail to tragedy.
The reason to pick apart the last minute details, and identify tragic or near-tragic errors, is not about blame — it’s really not even about the fire passed. It’s about the next fire and the next firefighters — seeing the missed steps is the only way they can hope to learn a better dance for the day they are handed the wrong conditions at the wrong time and place for a safe firefight.
Until we decide to address the real cause of unnecessary firefighter deaths, offering a clear picture of the firestorm is the least we owe.
I understand that identifying fireline errors is currently providing paychecks for attorneys and scapegoats for the grieving. I don’t know a solution for that. I do know that until we fix root causes, we reduce the fog or we increase the body count.
What he said! Everyone who cares about the lives of the hotshot crews in our nation needs to take Tyler’s comments seriously. What he said.
That is the reason why I am here, participating in this forum, viewing hundreds of pictures, and making FOIA requests to the state of Arizona.
same here. what Elizabeth said 🙂
The military has a good solution to the safety investigation problem. Since I am familiar with the Naval process, if you are interested, look up OPNAVINST 5102.1D. The introduction in chapter 1 and the introduction in chapter 7 pretty much explain the process.
The safety investigation is conducted for the sole purpose of preventing future mishaps. All the evidence and testimony is privileged and information developed in the safety investigation cannot be used in any court.
US Code title 10 exempts public disclosure of the information and the report.
A parallel accident investigation is conducted that takes sworn testimony, 5th amendment protections apply, and all the evidence is admissible in a court of law. The entire accident investigation can be released to the public. Individuals, and organizations can be held legally accountable based on evidence from the accident report.
What is required is a similar process for federal and state organizations. One investigation gets the real truth, the other gets the legal truth.
I discovered a picture last night that shows a east to west view (flat land towards mountain. This picture is attached to this incident. The picture shows a column of smoke going virtually straight up. There is a helicopter to the right of the column. There is a second smaller column of smoke to the left of the main column. This smaller column of smoke is a different color BLACK. The black smoke is almost in contact with the main column. The smaller column forms a cross in the air. SIMPLY AMAZING. Can anyone elaborate on this?? It sure reminds me of the cross in the boulder at the deployment site.
can you email us a photo you are writing about to Elizabeth’s- ma*********@ya***.com
and than she can review it and email us her views and the photo-
she has private access to our photos and she can match it up to them-
She is amazing-
From my experience logging then and selling wood for a number of years I can tell you that if it were not an old rubber tire it would likely have been a pinon tree in that area. Pinon wood has the aproximate burn value as oak but it is due to the pitch oil it contains. If you burn pinon you will need to clean the chimney now and again or risk a chimney fire. I have had those in a wood stove with thin wall stove pipe. That chimney fire can melt that metal and I have seen it white hot so that any little defect would allow a hole to develope.
Pitch pine will also do that and burns even hotter than pinon.
RP I am not offended. I am not a firefighter, though I have been an outdoorsman most of my life. In my younger days we lived in a tent while my Dad did his prospecting and mining. We did put out lightening fires right at the trees in several instances, but we never had the formal training that wildfire men have. I listen to them and learn a lot, but experience, natural instinct and common sense has a lot to do with the outdoor life. I am religious in this way. God, whoever he might be, gave me sense enough to avoid situations that I ought not be in or at least sense enough to try to take measures to keep myself alive as long as possible. I have learned a lot from these experienced Hot Shots and have plenty respect for what they do. Would I have went down in that manzanita that day had I been on that crew? God forbid. Going downhill in those temperatures is a lot easier than uphill, especially very steep uphill rocky ground. Now those men are under strict orders, I am not. Also Willis says they had motivation to save structures in the Yarnell direction. So what can I say there? What I want to know is whether 19 men can go faster through manzanita than a single person alone can? No one has answered that, and I am certain some of the Hot Shots have gone in Groups and then singly and would know the answer. I do know if they used chainsaws to cut their way through then they were slower than if not. Maybe a group of men would need a swath cut through it. I have cut many acres of one seeded juniper commonly called cedar. That stuff is slow going to trim it with a chain saw and you have to cut near the trunk to get any progress. Same those men had to cut low and in thick brush one hit of a rock and that chain is so dull that progress is damn near nill. But then I have always worked alone and I understand they had four saws that day.
This is a learning process in this life. It took me almost two years before I was proficient enough to cut and sell wood and make any money at it. There are lots of little things to learn. Mining was the same in a way except that my Dad was a miner. Still I had to learn to use a jack leg and pull 6 foot rounds versus the four foot rounds we did by hand steel. Well thank God again that we have all these firemen and Hot Shots to contribute since their combined experience really tells the tale of what went wrong and it did go wrong when 19 more lives are sacrificed to the god of destruction. I have been reading up on this fire fighting business. I have shed plenty of tears over this because I too lost a young 29 year old son whom I dearly loved.
John Maclean has sent us his book THE ESPERANZA FIRE. It covers a lot of others in there and also talks of the many deaths involved in firefighting. He starts with the 1903 fire with 87 total death attributed to it. Whew my Dad was a machine gunner in WW1 about that time and got out 1905 if I remember correctly. How many have died from lack of knowledge and training>careless action, and perhaps just plain error. If my Dad had gotten killed with a stray bullet from his own outfit it would have been called an accident. I think if someone had carelessly killed him then that idiot would have had his rifle taken away and perhaps even court martialed.
I have made this analogy and like it. If you get an ambulance to a scene of injury quickly enough your seconds may save a life. A slow ambulance to a heart attack victum has more than once caused a death. If this Yarnell fire were quickly put out and nipped in the bud nineteen young lives would still be in the running. Now had I known the attitude of authorities these days I personally would have been on that fireline the very first day. I figured with all the equipment, planes, men, and first responder attitude that this thing would have been quashed early on. One Mr. Murry, Hot Shot Firefighter out in California of some 30 experience as firefighter, Hot Shot, and SmokeJumper tells me the situation has changed since the 70’s. He is not happy with it and feels
that too many of these fires are not hit soon enough and too much beaurocratic BS is interfering with the work. Well enough from me on this subject. Go to John Daughterly’s Investigative Media website and there too you will read many firefighters opinions and helps on the Yarnell Fire situation.
I don’t want to get too side tracked here, but we used overwhelming force and suppress everything tactics for over 90 years how has that worked up to this point.
As to your other question, one person will travel faster than a crew in almost any situation. In fact, the people in front will have to walk slower to stay together. That is how a hotshot crew hikes, at a pace that all members stay together. this means the front people will have to slow down after every obstacle to allow others the pass it, otherwise you get slingshotted in the back. Also, I doubt they were cutting as they hiked. In some instances you send cutters ahead to cut out a “p-line” for the rest of the crew, but this would have required prior thought and action.
there was no cuttings as they hiked- just minor cuttings near the black and fire line and where they deployed-
thank you for answering about the numerous men in line slower than a few-
that is what we suspected.
On page 72 of the report, Figure 11 shows that there were in-cloud lightning flashes just east of Yarnell at 1620 MST. Page 37 of the report highlights “Key Action B: The Granite Mountain IHC’s descent from the two-track road sometime around 1620.” Although in retrospect the danger posed by the threat of lightning at that time seems small compared to the wind-induced growth of the fire after 1620, for whatever reason at the moment the fateful decision was made to drop into the box canyon, they were unable to anticipate that the fire was going to cut off their chosen route to the Boulder Springs Ranch. I do wonder if those lightning strikes mentioned on page 72 could have been a factor in GM IHC’s decision-making process at 1620 in choosing among several escape route options.
In my experiences from hotshot crew work and other work assignments, I have been caught out in severe thunderstorms on a number of occasions. Whenever possible, those who led the crews I have been on have done what they could to try to mitigate the hazards from lightning in close proximity. Sometimes that meant leaving an area of fireline we had been working on if it was on or near a ridgetop in an exposed location and retreating to places that seemed less likely to be struck.
Placing myself in the shoes of GM IHC at 1620 hrs that day and seeing lightning nearby and probably heading my way, possibly feeling like a human lightning rod on that two track road on the ridge, I might have taken some comfort on the thought of going down through that dense manzanita. I might have been thinking, “well, at least if we go down there we are less likely to get struck by the lightning, instead of staying up on the two track on the ridge holding our metal tools up over our shoulders.”
Some of the GM crew members could have had communications earlier in the afternoon from family and friends in the Prescott area who might have warned them that the line of thunderstorms approaching the fire had carried a lot of lightning when it went through their area. That might have made the thought of retreating into the black as a safety zone less appealing because after all it was exposed and mostly on higher elevation ground.
If I had been a GM hotshot that fateful afternoon, given the weather conditions I would have been concerned not only about the fire behavior but also the hazards of lightning in the immediate area, and that added concern might have been a factor in a decision to pursue an escape route with less exposure to lightning (leaving the two-track and going down through the manzanita) to a safety zone (Boulder Springs Ranch) that afforded shelter from lightning.
Brian, that is an incredibly perceptive point. Good for you.
Joy and Sonny, was there obvious lightening in the area late that afternoon (I guess it would have been while you were leaving Yarnell in Sonny’s car)? It seems like Brian is correct – if there was noticeable lightening, going to the Helm’s ranch by way of the ridge line would make the Hotshots sitting ducks for lightening, to some degree, at least.
I think you are getting way off the known facts here. No one during the conversations lookout, Blue Ridge crew others on fire said anything about the lighting being a threat, including OPS or IC. only an indication of a storm to the east of the fire.
The report said the SAIR stated to the people on the fire toget in the black or back to their buggies (transports) Not sure of the time on that. Befor or after GM deployment.
Page 22 of the report, 2nd paragraph, line 2:
“GM Capt mentions he might have seen a few lightning strikes.”
Robert (Bob) Powers
on October 5, 2013 at 1:47 pm said:
we were in the area where they were- thick smoke was a factor maybe but not lightning-
Elizabeth on October 5, 2013 at 11:33 am said:
Bob, your point is well taken. That said, we are still trying to figure out why they went down into the canyon, and, since we know that they were committed to going to Helm’s ranch (for some reason), the question then becomes “why didn’t they walk on the ridge,” which was devoid of the type of foliage/vegetation that trapped them. Fear of lightening could have been the reason why they chose to go into deep foliage rather than walk on the ridge the whole way. Who knows. I have made a FOIA request for the radio transmissions, to see who was saying what, but I am not sure if I will ever get them…. In the meanwhile, Brian makes a point worth at least considering. Again, though, your point is well taken, Bob.
In addition to the in-cloud lightning flashes just to the east of Yarnell at 1620 which are covered on page 72, the report goes on to say on page 76 in reference to the outflow boundary that: “Some indicators appeared after 1600 . . . . Other distinct indicators included spritzes of rain, thunder, and some flashes of lightning (both cloud-to-ground and in-cloud) that coincided with the rapidly increasing fire column and fire behavior.”
This topic also came up earlier in the report on page 29. There it is noted that as the outflow boundary moves over the fire area between 1618 and 1630: “Thunder rumbles and spritzes of rain or mist mixed with ash fall over parts of the fire area. . . . Thunder heard with the smattering of rain and a very short period of calm wind conditions cause several firefighters in Yarnell to think about the 1990 Dude Fire in Arizona and the six fatalities that occurred on that fire.”
Page 6 of the report states that: “the Team tried to stand with the crew to try to understand as best they could, what crew members were seeing and how they were making sense of unfolding conditions,when it was time to act.” The firefighters in Yarnell at 1620 who probably had access to shelter in vehicles were likely keeping an eye westward toward the approaching fire with their backs to the lightning strikes and thus had their own perceptions of the lightning factor. The Granite Mountain crew at 1620 would have had a somewhat different perception of the lightning not only because they were hiking at an elevated and exposed location in a direction at that time which would have put the flashes just east of Yarnell almost directly in their field of view in front of them but also because around 1620 they had to quickly decide whether to continue on the two-track or drop off into the heavily vegetated box canyon. The lightning conditions likely enhanced the allure of the box canyon route which was already enticing them to go that way since it seemed to be a more direct route to the ranch (which appeared deceptively close), it was downhill, and up until that time the fire spread was for the most part parallel with their escape route.
Given the circumstances of their being en route to their safety zone, it is not surprising that the GM crew did not have time to communicate much information to other forces on the fire about what factors were influencing their decisions.
I am very grateful to those who prepared the report which gives us a wealth of maps, diagrams, and collected information all of which is useful in trying to understand how this happened. The photos and video reports provided by Joy and Tex have been incredibly helpful as well.
The odds are we’ll never know why they moved. To the wildland fire fighters it will hopefully emphasize the Black, Good Safety Zones, and not committing to the unburned without a full evaluation of the 10 and 18. Communications with your supervisor and adjoining forces would eliminate not knowing where a crew is. Sometimes you have to let the why go.
ALL FIREFIGHTERS GO TO HEAVEN BECAUSE THEY SPENT THEIR LIFE ON EARTH SUPPRESSING HELL.
Yes, if lightening were the explanation, it would have been a simple matter to communicate that fact.
In AZ during that time of year, there are often visible lightning strikes without any real risk of being struck. Speculating that they were so terrified of being struck by lightning that they chose the terrain trap they did ignores that there were other options that would have allowed them, more quickly, to access less-prominent terrain to lessen lightning exposure without the same risks the terrain trap, and its dense brush and mandatory bushwhack, carried.
Lightning would not have been a factor here. There was some storming to the NE toward Prescott but nothing near enough to be concerned about in the vicinity. We walked the ridge that day shortly before the Hot Shots went down in that box canyon. We arrived in Yarnell about 3:30 and had dropped off the South Rim of the Weaver Mountains about one hour before that. We saw no indications to fear lightning at any time. It was hot and a very steep incline on the trail to go up to the top ridge. Had they followed that trail they possibly could have survived, yet it too drops off in a more dense canyon that would have been a gorge and chimney more efficient than the bowl they were in. In descending it you can see that it took even more heat than that bowl did. That canyon is parallel to the bowl canyon and it too had to have been taken almost as quickly as the bowl since it is so near and above Helms Ranch. You almost have to hike it to get a feel of how difficult things would be if you dared to go toward Yarnell in either of those canyons if that wind changed on you. That was a fast and furious fire, wind factors were not considered in the equation or those men would have stayed in the black or else atop the ridge where they could drop off the West side to get to the Highway.
I still do not have the answer as to whether 19 men would be slower through that manzanita over one or two persons. It was slow progress for two of us and I see where we were well under one mph going through it where a brisk walk would be maybe 3 mph.
Not much has been said about the boulders that were to the North and South of their fatal position. There should have been time to get to those either way and there was plenty of room there without the trouble of cutting out brush. We went down in boulders since it was to me an alternative if needed. Sonny
it too bewilders me every time I hike there with you and the investigators and all-
the boulders are never mentioned anywhere not in the media or the reports and when we take media or journalists or authors- they just brush it off as these men must of been exhausted- WE WERE EXTREMELY TIRED OF THE HEAT AND THE SMOKE AND THE SUN- and yet how come we only 2 people not nineteen went up the 2 track ridge to the mountain top and dropped off to the Congress side for awhile than went to Glen Ilah area- we had no communications from aircrafts or radios or even cells to know what was going on except we KNEW to stay high and watch that fire behind us until we knew we were way away from it and dropping down through low fuel area and boulders- why is it I an avid hiker carry gps, temperatures, kestrels and I am not the ELITE wildland firefighting folks- why doesn’t ONE of these men carry stuff like that like I do so you do not have to rely or trust on communications either by air or ground- why is it I have to go forward in life and people answer all kinds of questions on here but again my question is the same as Sonny’s- HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE 19 MEN TO WALK THROUGH A HALF OF A MILE THROUGH THAT UNUSUALLY DENSE VEGETATION/MANZANITA/SCRUB OAK/CAT CLAW????
someone who walks the line like these men did can answer us. right????
I had someone share to me that they support the 9-28-13 report and find it sufficient enough for the death of these men. Had I not been there or hiked this area as long as I have- I probably too would be okay with the report but not what I eye-witnessed 6-30-13 and not for the fact I know exactly where they dropped down and YOU ALL can go to the Yavapai County Assessor and in the search area put the name Helms in there and can map layer your map and it will show you the EXACT vegetation these men went down in by satellite imagery and you will see the boulders they could of hiked on top of as well. You can see it all-
You would scratch your head yet even scratch your head more if you hiked it even nowadays with all the vegetation gone. My heart is broken and my gut says stick with helping these nineteen- actually twenty men because we know Brendan the sole survivor of the Granite Mountain Hotshots has been reported as fired this week and the chief resigned- OHHHHH also isn’t odd we were the last civilian hikers yet we never heard from Roy Hall the incident commander since the fire- you’d think he would of wanted the photos we had to see it for himself- odd. To me, my gut says there is more to this yet to be revealed and awaiting the proper documents and time to do this correctly so please be patient- the truth will be revealed one day- Thank you Lord for Sonny and I finally are out in the great open spaces again under the moonlit stars in our sleeping bags and enjoying Bill Gabbert’s blog by laptop-
it is sure nice not to be cooped up in the walls of life- “freedom” of sleeping in caves or out wherever we decide to sleep for the night in the great open spaces of Arizona. The town meeting in Yarnell 10-9-13 5pm at the Yarnell Presb. church will have Andy Tobin, Karen Fann, Paul Gosar, Rowle Simmons- we hope to see some of the bloggers here at the meeting- we love to meet you- Good night!
You’d mentioned reports about a job loss and resignation — are these local news reports that you can include a link to?
Regarding taking that large a group through that long a bushwhack, it’s possible no one here can answer directly because that long a bushwhack through that kind of brush with that large a crew would be so unusual. Certainly if I were OSHA, in addition to walking the exact area post-burn, one thing that would be informational is taking 20 or so fit young men with packs and tools and descending through roughly similar terrain that still has dense brush.
Joy, we haven’t seen anything up here in Prescott (P Town) regarding Brendan’s job. Can you provide a source?
If anything, last we heard, he’s working with 3 new fuel suppression guys, all funded by grants obtained through the efforts of the PAWUIC.
“Hotshots Survivor Joins Fuels-Management Team”
Below, another good article on how the GMHS helped our community, and shows why everyone is feeling so devastated, still:
Yarnell Fire Chief Koile is gone, and the residents spoke up yesterday (10/9) at the City Council meeting asking the City Manager to reconsider and bring Chief Fraijo back.
But, we haven’t heard a word about Brendan’s job. Can you clarify?
Does anyone know if the pictures by Matt Oss photography used in SAIR figure 15, 16 and 19 show the middle and entrapment bowls? Also is SPGS1 Chief Willis?
Moss’ footage is the Congress side and yes- Willis
P Townon October 9, 2013 at 11:39 am said:
REPLY- our source came from the men who were raffling of the 19th knife of one of the Hotshots made before passing and he stated the firefighters told him and they seem to be legion and firefighters mixed there and 5 witness there at the good ol’ Congress Day event in Congress last Saturday
My source, on Friday 10/11, told me straight from the Prescott FD that Brendan is on a Leave of Absence, requested by him. He has not been fired, and the PFD gave permission to share the above so that this is clarified. He is still with the PFD.
SRon October 9, 2013 at 8:43 am said
we agree with you on the OSHA suggestion-
on October 12, 2013 at 8:02 pm said:
Wonderful to hear-
thank you dearly for the reply-
Thank you and Thank you!
The drawing of deployment site on p88 figure 8 of SAIR shows fire entering site from the south or southwest. Am I missing something?
As noted above, I took pause (as did some of you, it seems) with the idea that the VLAT or air support did not drop any protectant/retardant for Marsh and his men even though the pilots knew exactly where Marsh was, because he had just radioed the pilots when they flew overhead to say that where they had flown was EXACTLY where he wanted them to make their drop on the fire. I was perplexed that the VLAT never circled back and made the drop on such a desperate (e.g. deployment) situation, even if the VLAT could not be sure precisely where the Hotshots were or needed the drop. I wondered why the VLAT pilot did not just make the drop and hope he hit the target, given that he KNEW the situation was urgent (e.g. deployment). What I was told today by someone close to the investigation is that, by the time the VLAT turned around and flew back to the area where he had just flown over and Marsh said was good, which took perhaps two minutes (to turn around and circle back), the fire had blown up, the pilot could no longer see in order to fly through the area. Specifically, I was told that VLATs fly at roughly 200 feet over the fire when they are making a drop, and flying at 200 feet through the fire smoke that had just blown up was too risky – the VLAT pilot risked blindly running the plane right into the side of a hill or mountain. Given this explanation, I now understand why, even though Marsh affirmed exactly where he needed the VLAT and that it was desperate (e.g. they were deploying), the VLAT could not help. I am sharing this information here in case this explanation helps someone else.
It sounds like you now understand why a Very Large Air Tanker (VLAT) would not have been effective during the entrapment of the 19 hotshots. I got a call from one of the hotshot’s parents the other day, who was upset that aircraft did not save the lives of the firefighters.
Let’s be careful about placing blame, or any portion of the blame, when there is a lack of full understanding about wildland fire behavior, weather, wildland fire suppression tactics and strategy, and the tactical use of aerial firefighting resources.
I will begin with anyone’s assumption that air attack or the pilots in the VLAT knew “exactly” where the crew was. Sure, at some point the aircraft flew over or near their location — at 150 or 200 mph — and also made a turn on the pass to avoid terrain. Then the crew got on the radio and said they were overflown by aircraft. But the assumption that any pilot knew the exact location of the crew could be a stretch. They were somewhere along the flight path, before or after the turn. Visibility through the smoke no doubt was an issue.
No aircraft can put out a fire, unless the fire is very small, with no wind, and in very, very light fuels, such as grass. Otherwise, the only thing you can hope for is that retardant, when used in light winds, will temporarily slow down a fire, enabling ground-based firefighters to work more closely to the fire and eventually put it out, with hand tools and/or water.
When there are strong winds, as was occurring during the wind event that changed the direction of the Yarnell Hill Fire and increased dramatically the rate of spread, anything dropped from an aircraft, water or retardant, will be dispersed and blown sideways making it difficult or impossible to hit the target. Strong winds can also make it unsafe for aircraft to fly 150 to 200 feet above terrain.
A rapidly spreading fire in medium or heavy fuels will burn too intensely for retardant or water to be effective. The fire will burn right through it. This was the situation during the wind event that caused the entrapment of the 19 firefighters. One of the questions we asked Dave Nelson in our interview recently was “What is one of the more common errors in judgment you have seen on fires?” His answer: “Pounding a rolling fire with aerial retardant drops.”
To summarize, with everything I have read about the fire, my judgement is that aircraft attempting to drop on the entrapment site would not be effective due to strong winds dispersing the retardant, strong winds making it difficult or impossible for aircraft to operate safely, poor visibility due to smoke, lack of knowledge as to the exact location of the crew, and fire intensity that would have caused the fire to burn through retardant.
Bill, what an informed explanation. Thank you. FYI, you say that dropping retardant “would not be effective.” Thinking out loud, if I were the parent of a victim, I would feel like it should have been tried, anyway, regardless of whether it was likely to be effective, but the conversation I had this morning made clear that it was far too dangerous for the VLAT pilot to even try. If I were a parent of a victim, that would at least give me closure – knowing that it was far too dangerous (e.g. risk of hitting the hillside due to no visibility) to even try.
from page 64 SAIR Appendix A Sequence of Events
1637 ASM2 flies a drop path for a VLAT north of Yarnell west to east. DIVS A acknowledges the drop.
I am not a firefighter, not related to anyone involved in this debacle. My interest is merely a rural Gila County resident where 2% of the land in the county is privately owned. The other 98 % is state or federally owned.
My frame of reference is merely a 30 year resident of rural Gila County, AZ. that has seen how USFS handles fires in my neighborhood .
This investigation synopsis is a waste of time and money;the bottom line of I’m OK your OK does nothing to help remedy procedural deficiencies and future policy changes . I see several issues that are not addressed for concern of reputations of those living and dead that were key players in this debacle. No accountability is a familiar thread that seems to run through most federal and state procedures, actions and policies.
Below is a brief overview of what Chief Willis has said or wrote concerning his contact with Granite Mountain on June 30 followed by portions of SAIR referencing SPGS1 and relation with Granite Mountain June 30.
John Dougherty with Investigative Media reported on August 21 that email from Darrell Willis states that he had no contact with Eric Marsh or Jesse Steed on June 30. Willis states that he was overseeing structure protection in Peeples Valley.
August 26 letter to Editorial Board of Phoenix New Times from Darrell Willis: Fact: Chief Willis was not “tapped” by this team. Chief Willis was dispatched on
Saturday night at approximately 2230 hours to assist the Type 3 Incident Commander at
the Double Bar A Ranch and Model Creek subdivision as a Structure Group Supervisor
and arrived hours before the team took command of the fire.
Darrell Willis stated in interview given at deployment site That he happened to be on the north end of the fire that day and not really involved with them that day but heard them on the radios. He also stated that he believes they were going to protect the ranch. This video can be found at Wildfire Today. Above statements at approximately 3minutes of first video
page 14 SAIR: The Structure Protection Group 1 Supervisor (SPGS1) arrives at about 2340 and is assigned structure protection for Yarnell. He drives the roads to learn the town, heading into the hills on backcountry roads, tying in with personnel on the fire, and looking for strategic options for protecting Yarnell. He sees overgrown yards and indefensible houses, and he recognizes there are limited options for a protection strategy. Although the fire appears in check, he thinks it could come down the hill during the next burn period. He spends the night building his situational awareness and developing contingency plans. As one contingency, he considers how to tie roads together to burn off vegetation if needed to protect Yarnell.
Page 15 SAIR: At the 0700 briefing on June 30, ICT4 and others from the previous shift meet at the Yarnell Fire Station with incoming personnel including ICT2, two Operations Section Chiefs (OPS1 and OPS2), SPGS1, a fire behavior analyst (FBAN), YCSO deputies, and the Granite Mountain IHC Superintendent.
Page 17 and 18 SAIR: After the 0700 briefing, SPGS1 and the Granite Mountain IHC drive through Yarnell, stopping at a property on Sesame Street. While there, SPGS1 gestures to the southwest and reminds DIVS A about the “bomb-proof” safety zone, the Boulder Springs Ranch. SPGS1 follows up by saying, “Of course, you also have the black [as a safety zone].” Earlier that day, at 0800, the Blue Ridge IHC arrives at the ICP where they clone their radios to frequencies for the fire and stage in their crew carriers. At about 0845, they head south to the Yarnell Fire Station for staging. OPS1 calls about 45 minutes later and tells them to drive into the fire area and to tie in with SPGS1 on their way in. Using tactical frequency 3 (Tac 3), DIVS A calls Blue Ridge while they are en route and they discuss the fire. The Blue Ridge IHC parks their crew carriers next to the Granite Mountain IHC carriers. The Superintendent (BR Supt) and Captain (BR Capt) unload their utility task vehicle (UTV) and continue along Sesame Street. They encounter SPGS1 who requests a Heavy Equipment Boss (HEQB) to manage a dozer and clear out the two-track road on both sides as far as possible to provide access and to prepare for possible backfire. Blue Ridge assigns one of their squad leaders, who is qualified as an HEQB, to help.
Page 21 and 22 SAIR: The crew has ongoing contact with Blue Ridge IHC, SPGS1, and OPS1. They also contact air resources and adjoining forces as needed.
Page 24 SAIR: As BR Supt is en route to pick up drivers to move the Granite Mountain crew carriers, SPGS1 contacts him to ask if they still have the option to burn out from the dozer line.
Page 26 SAIR: SPGS1 gives direction for Air Attack to “drop at will” to keep the fire out of town.
I cannot explain any firefighter rational but I will continue to point out misrepresentations and factual inaccuracies. Thanks to Mr. Gabbert for this open forum. GODSPEED Mrs. Collura!
I’ve been reading the SAIR, John Dougherty’s piece and various comments. There’s no doubt that communications were busy and confusing, but even so, there’s a part of the report which I can’t understand. Towards the bottom of page 24 the radio conversation between DIVS A and BR Supt is reported and interpreted thus:
“BR Supt thinks DIVS A is talking about heading northeast, through the black, to one of the ranches in that direction.”
Is there something that the maps don’t show? Which ranches would be to the northeast of the crew location? The nearest buildings to the northeast seem to be more than 3 miles away.
I’m not trying to double-guess anyone: just asking if there’s some ranch which is not obvious from the maps.
Experienced wildland firefighters always have in the back of their mind:
This can be a dangerous job… I need to use all resources available to be sure that my crew(s) and I go home… one of those resources is lessons learned from past entrapments….. if a big question mark hangs over the entrapment and deaths of 19 firefighters, a piece of the puzzle remains missing and is unsettling.
The 50+ people that worked on the investigation report failed to do a complete job — which is a disservice to active firefighters and the legacy of the firefighters that are no longer with us.
We can only hope that the Arizona state OSHA investigation group, still working on their version, learns lessons from the failed SAIR effort.
You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs.
Bill will you be revisiting this issue now that the citations against the AZ State Forestry DIvision have been issued?
Jim, if you have not seen them, check out the articles tagged with “Yarnell Fire”.
It breaks my heart to read so many of these messages. Having spent 8 years on initial attack in Canada, I understand many factors play into such a tragic incident. Let us learn as fellow fire fighters, and share compassion for the souls, brothers, who lost their lives. Keep obnoxious, judgemental comments to yourself, as that does not bring hope or light to those who lost their lives, nor to their families. Have gratitude for their willingness to stay engaged and work so diligently, despite the outcome.
May peace be with the families.
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