One year after Yarnell Hill, a reporter asks, are we doing things differently?

I hope newspapers never go away. Many of them are struggling financially and are laying off reporters and photographers, but the world will be a different place without skilled reporters digging out facts and writing prose that is a pleasure to read.

Amy B. Wang, in an article she published Wednesday for the Arizona Republic, illustrates this. She covered last month’s Slide Fire south of Flagstaff, Arizona about 70 miles away from the fatal Yarnell Hill Fire. When we wrote about the Slide Fire, we noted that within five hours of the fire being reported, already a Type 1 Incident Management Team (IMT) and 15 additional Type 1 crews, over and above the initial dispatch, had been ordered. In her article she compared the anemic response (my term) on the Yarnell Hill Fire to the heavy ordering of firefighting resources in the first hours of the Slide fire.

In the interest of full disclosure, Ms. Wang interviewed me for the piece, and quoted me near the end.

Below is an excerpt from her article, a section where she was writing about the fire camp for the Slide Fire:

…The firefighters were elusive. A hotshot at a fire camp is likely one of two things: exhausted and sleeping or exhausted and preparing to head out to the lines.

On Thursday morning, they huddled around their crew buggies, many in silence. By 6 a.m., most had climbed into their vehicles. One by one, the buggies rumbled out of the park, team names emblazoned on the sides — Carson, Blue Ridge, Northwest, Prescott — and headed south toward the flames.

About 7 miles south of the fire camp, at the Oak Creek Vista Overlook, two members of the Carson Hotshots served as lookouts for their hand crew below. Stoic, they observed as part of the fire worked its way up the wall of Sterling Canyon.

A large plume of smoke billowed above the canyon walls, pushed by a light wind. Only the streams of radio chatter and sounds of helicopters cycling through the skies every 10 minutes pierced the silence.

They spoke neither to each other nor to a growing crowd of television cameras. With the unwavering attention of Buckingham Palace guards, the hotshots remained oblivious to the lenses and shutter clicks. One shook his head and declined to give his name for a photo caption.

A fire information officer with the Kaibab National Forest, who had accompanied the group to the lookout, interjected.

“Guys, if they say no, that’s it,” she said firmly.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

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

2 thoughts on “One year after Yarnell Hill, a reporter asks, are we doing things differently?”

  1. Thanks for the kind words, Bill, and for sharing the story. Your site is a wealth of important information.

    Yes, Murphy, you are right that the timing is definitely noteworthy. I mention later in the article that the Slide Fire broke out earlier in the season when there were more resources available. In contrast, Yarnell Hill was competing with several other large fires burning at the time, and crews and air tankers were in demand across the region.

    I am always open to hearing more from firefighters and others in this community, re: this and future stories. Is our coverage missing the mark? What are your concerns about the wildland firefighting procedures in place moving forward? Etc. It will be interesting to see how and what protocols officially change, if any do.

    Best,
    Amy

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  2. Or maybe the heavy resource ordering for the slide fire has more to do with how many type one crews are sitting nationwide, and not a lot for all those team folks to do…

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