by Jim Nintzel
Independent journalist John Dougherty of InvestigativeMEDIA raises serious questions about whether the Granite Mountain Hotshots who died in late June should have been dispatched to battle the Yarnell Hill Fire:
Before the Granite Mountain Hotshots even approached Yarnell Hill, a substantial amount of information shows, serious problems already had engulfed the crew. The personnel-related matters call into question whether the crew met minimum hotshot qualifications.
The systemic crisis gripping an overworked crew — along with its baffling decision to leave a safe zone and move down a canyon through a treacherous, 10-foot-high thicket of unburned fuel toward a rapidly approaching wildfire — has raised fundamental questions about whether the nation’s only hotshot crew attached to a municipal fire department was a blueprint for disaster.
Dougherty exposes these problems as well:
The Prescott Fire Department has attempted to blend wildfire fighting and structural protection, two radically different concepts, inside one agency. In the aftermath of the tragedy, the city already is discussing reforming the Granite Mountain Hotshots crew for next season — an idea some former hotshots find appalling.
“The absolute worst outcome from this horrible event is for the city of Prescott to get another crew,” expert Gary Olson says at his Flagstaff home.
“You just killed everyone on the last one,” he says of the Prescott Fire Department. “That has never happened in the history of wildland firefighting. And now you want to get another one?”
As Prescott struggles to recover from a disaster that has shaken the city to its core — as a makeshift memorial surrounding the Granite Mountain Hotshots headquarters in a refurbished garage attests — any criticism of the actions of the firefighters is more than most residents can bear. The hotshots have been widely hailed as heroes and even were declared the “Saints of Prescott” at a July 9 memorial service attended by many dignitaries, including Vice President Joe Biden.
These were young men: Three of the dead were 21, five were under 25, six were under 30, four were between 30 and 36, and their leader was 43. They leave behind wives, fiancées, children, and babies yet to be born. They were killed in the most horrific manner imaginable.
But as each day passes, evidence mounts that serious mistakes were made by the Prescott Fire Department, the state Forestry Division, and Granite Mountain’s superintendent.
The Arizona Forestry Division’s decision to let the fire burn the night it started on state land and then dispatch prison crews the next day rather than apply overwhelming force to put it out — combined with a lack of sufficient aircraft to apply desperately needed retardant — turned a manageable event into a catastrophe.
Arizona is “always looking to save money by going cheap,” says Olson, who also worked for four years as a dispatcher in the Santa Fe National Forest, managing resources to fight wildfires. “Sometimes the fire gets away from you and becomes a big monster, putting firefighters at risk.”
Read the entire report here.