The U.S. Forest Service released a series of videos Saturday that were shot by wildland firefighters on the day of the Yarnell Hill tragedy. In a brief caption on its website, the Arizona State Forestry Division explained that the videos had been obtained following a request through the Freedom of Information Act.
Ranging from 30 seconds to seven minutes long, the videos were shot by wildland firefighters who were on scene the afternoon of June 30, 2013, when 19 members of the Granite Mountain Interagency Hotshot Crew perished in the hills above Yarnell, Arizona. Though the videos provide some insight into what it was like to be at the edge of a uniquely dangerous and fast-moving natural disaster, they shed little light on what was not already known, and there are many redactions. (Images of the fallen Granite Mountain Hotshots, for example, have been edited out of the videos at the families’ request.)
“It was just disturbing to look at and watch, but at the same time I don’t think I heard anything that would make any changes to what we already feel we know happened,” Tammy Misner, whose son, Sean Misner, was a Granite Mountain Hotshot, told the Arizona Republic after seeing the videos.
“We’ll never understand. We will always ask why,” she said.
In October, the families of the Granite Mountain crew filed a lawsuit against the state of Arizona, the Arizona State Forestry Division, Yavapai County, and the Central Yavapai Fire District. In it, they seek compensation for their loss and call on government agencies to issue specific policy and equipment changes for wildland firefighters. (The defendants have since filed a motion to dismiss.)
Patrick McGroder, the Phoenix attorney representing the plaintiffs, told the Arizona Republic that litigation could force officials to disclose information about what went wrong in Yarnell Hill that they might otherwise be reluctant to share.
“The civil justice system can act proactively and affirmatively to change the way things are done,” he said. “It can be a vehicle for change.”