Additional photos emerge of Yarnell Hill Fire

Yarnell Hill Fire
Yarnell Hill Fire at 8:16 p.m. June 29, 2013, as seen from Yarnell, Arizona. The photographer wishes to remain anonymous.

We received some photos today of the Yarnell Hill Fire that we had not previously seen. Most of them are snapshots of smoke coming up from behind a ridge or distant air tankers in the sky, but one of them captured our interest, the image above. It does not generate much new information, but it appears to show that when it was taken, at 8:16 p.m. on June 29, 2013 (according to the time stamp on the file), 27 hours after the fire started, it was still not a large fire. This photo is consistent with the photo below taken at 7:30 p.m. on June 29, 2013 which has been public since last year.

Yarnell Hill Fire at 7:30 p.m. MST, June 29, 2013, approximately 21 hours before the 19 fatalities. Photo by ATGS Rory Collins, Oregon Department of Forestry.
Yarnell Hill Fire at 7:30 p.m. MST, June 29, 2013, approximately 21 hours before the 19 fatalities. Photo by ATGS Rory Collins, Oregon Department of Forestry.

According to information released by the Arizona State Forestry Division on July 16, 2013, on the second day of the fire at 5:30 p.m. on June 29 there were 13 firefighters working on the fire and it had burned six acres. By the afternoon of day three of the fire, June 30, it had grown to be much, much larger than it had been the evening before. At 4:47 p.m. that day the incident commander and the Arizona Dispatch Center received notice from Air Attack that firefighters had deployed fire shelters. The Granite Mountain Hotshots, 19 of them, died in the fire when a predicted wind shift changed the direction of the spread of the fire and entrapped the firefighters. The intensity of the fire exceeded the protection capabilities of the shelters.

On September 28, 2013 when the ASFD released their Serious Accident Investigation report on the fatalities, we wrote this about the lack of aggressive suppression action on the fire:

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.

The bottom line: Being timid or TOO cost-conscious during initial attack or the first burning period of a fire can be far more expensive in dollars and in the worst case, lives.

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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.

6 thoughts on “Additional photos emerge of Yarnell Hill Fire”

  1. Been thinking…

    Got a forestry degree about 20 yrs ago…Not enough classes on policy. That is both an institutional problem and an LMA problem to solve. They MAY have been working together showing the necessary classes to graduate, but big unviersities are more interested in research and tuition increases to concentrate on true forestry and policy education to ensure students can separate the chaff from the wheat, which will be harder to sift through when they get out in the real world

    Then one gets out in the real world after college, which can be debated as a worthwhile venture nowadays…..and sees that college barely prepares one for effectively changing poilicy and working within the organizations to make changes is a misnomer

    I come up with the answer that alot of these agencies devleop policies on a whim and do not change with the times…sort of like States coming up with laws every year and not abolishing old 1898 laws thinking somwehow those are good for 21st Century thinking

    Somewhat like the LMA’s….gotten too powerful through Legislation and yes that means Congress, but the Agencies are complicit as well in devloping policy that they think “is good for the general public” in protecting themselves and the environment

    What’s that got to do with State and Federal wildland fire?

    What JWT said is probably true…but the USFS, as well as the otherLMA’s has a long way to go to prove to the public that they are public friendly. In cases they are, but there are plenty of cases where LEADING by example are sorely lacking and they have had plenty of time to correct them….you know…like employee evaluations……

    Maybe that is what needs to happen…..not taking care of your people and infrastructure…no performance pay increases or no raises.

    But in this little article with AZSF and guys writing here with experience…

    19 lives were lost, what was the delay,huh?

    The GP has a right to know since you and I here on this website are paying the freight through taxes

    I think I get the idea why the GP has got an attitude toward the LMA’s…..

    I get it …I SERVED as a temp, intermittent, term, 1039, and a career seasonal…you ain’t telling me anything I do not know….

    I know why the public has an attitude…..the line guy doing his job with allllllll those policies above him can not do it effectively withhout hassles from the public at times

    LMA’s operate at the political whim of WO and their directives and the GP can see right through as they have numbers of guv operations….both Left and Right offices and both parties, I venture to say and I am sure some here will agree, do not have the public in mind

    Anybody here with a modicum of understanding, should see why the GP is “fed up” or they have have hiding under a rock gliding towards retirement

    So I will lighten up…..but by God, there is work to be done at both State and Fed level to prevent more tragedies like this!!

  2. Got it, Emmett

    I stand by my original thoughts…

    Early this game at this particular fire…..

    Six acres BEFORE that next day windshift?

    Six acres and 19 folks perishing..

    If there are folk on this website with the vast amounts of fire experience…..

    Where was the delay? I have VFD”s capable of knocking out 6 acres…no matter the funding levels

    Yes, I know there is no perfect world

    Everyone State has funding and terrain challenges….

  3. Leo,

    While I often agree with you, you need to stop using LMA as a derogatory term.

    I am a Wildland Fire Manager and I supervise Wildland Firefighters…. and I have been doing it for 32 years.

    Turn your obvious anger into something that supports us still on the firelines instead of making all of us look like the evil satan.


    1. Ken, thanks for typing what I’ve been thinking for a long time here. LMA as a derogatory term ranks right up there for me with “mismanagement by the Forest Service,” which always sets me off. Jack Thomas told me years ago, “We don’t beat up on the medical community for what they didn’t know 30 years ago” but it’s really easy to beat up on the USFS and other fed agencies for what they didn’t know (or were DIRECTED by Congress to do) 30 or 40 or even 10 years ago.

      @Leo: think it over, eh?

  4. Schwarzkopf’s as well other leaders in the theater of operations recommend overwhelming force.

    As I have mentioned before….with all the LMA’s idolizing the military and saying they are “on it”

    Look at that aerial pic ….. about 2500-4500 AGL …again “about”

    Six acres? 19 lives? Again THAT aerial picture PROVES to me, beyond a shadow of doubt, that parcel of land was not worth 19 lives


    NO one in the LMA world has proved beyond a shadow of doubt, other than CalFire….

    None have used “overwhelming force.”

    The picure itself proves somebody had their two thumbs decisionmaking in their fourth point of contact….and something COULD and SHOULD have been done

    All that learning and the so called 10 AM rule??? WOW!! embarassing! 19 folk could have gone home!

    THAT fire after 27 hours….like Bill says….is STILL small

    “Overwhelming force” More like ….let’s wait til it gets to H Pay status and then “we will dance all over it!”

    1. Leo – not all States have the resources and the funds to throw overwhelming force at every ignition. They often lack taxpayer and Legislative support for more funding, and so try to live within their FY budget. In a perfect world, no fire would ever escape initial attack, but even Cal Fire has escapes after “overwhelming force” is dispatched to new reports. Guess we live in an imperfect world?


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