Written statements that members of the Blue Ridge Hotshots provided about the Yarnell Hill Fire have been released by the Industrial Commission of Arizona. The documents, even though they are heavily redacted, provide more information about what happened on June 30, 2013 before and after 19 members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots were overrun by flames and killed on the fire.
The statements from approximately 12 members of the crew provide more insight about what the Blue Ridge Hotshots were doing that day on the fire, including some of their communications with the Granite Mountain Hotshots.
The general atmosphere on the fire that day, according to how we interpreted some of the statements, was chaos and disorganization.
- Neither of the two hotshot crews received a briefing that morning.
- Blue Ridge never really had a significant assignment during their one shift on the fire, other than prepping a dozer line for 30 to 65 minutes, and one person from the crew who worked with a dozer that originally did not have a radio.
- When Blue Ridge had to disengage and move to a safety zone, there were “still people milling about in town” (Yarnell). At about 1600 some of the residents, who had no information about the fire, asked crewmembers why they were leaving.
- There was a “debate” on the radio about the border between two geographical divisions. (Other reports confirm this, and the fact that one of the Division Supervisors left the field and did not return.)
- Firefighters working on the north side of the fire, far away from where the fatal entrapment occurred, were:
…burning around structures and having to use alternate escape route since some have been compromised.
As Blue Ridge was forced to leave the fire and was heading toward a safety zone they:
…find engine crews hiking out and we urge them to move as fast as they can.
The first of the statements mentions what appear to be communications with the Granite Mountain Hotshots at some time before 1615, telling them they are moving Granite Mountain’s crew carriers for them so that they would not be consumed by the fire, and informing them of the current fire behavior:
…I explain that we will keep their rigs with us too because things are very dynamic now, and [redacted] mentions that they are trying to come down off the hill, he mentions traveling through the black.
And later at 1655:
Radio traffic is overheard on A/G or TAC about Granite Mountain IHC needing to deploy shelters and they were in the process of cutting deployment site and trying to burn out around it. No other radio traffic is heard from Granite Mountain over TAC or A/G, we arrive at the Ranch House Restaurant staging area and I jump in Granite Mountain’s chase rig and try to listen on their crew channel and all I hear is a keyed mic, I try to raise them but with no success. I tell [redacted] to sit in the truck and monitor their crew channel for any traffic.
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The entire document can be downloaded, but be aware that it is a huge 18MB file.