Harsh New Yarnell Fire Report
Bad decisions blamed for deaths
A second report on the Yarnell Hill Fire was released earlier this month, highlighting new evidence that may explain one of the most tragic wildfires in recent memory. The report, issued by the Arizona Division of Occupational Safety & Health, indicated that firefighters were ordered to protect non-defensible structures—houses without safe clearings around them—instead of prioritizing their own safety, reports High Country News.
The new findings draw attention to the lack of discussion surrounding the approaching thunderstorms, which ultimately lead to the fire increasing in power and danger. In addition, the report explores the possible failure of communication before the Granite Mountain Hotshots decided to leave a safety zone in an attempt to escape the growing fire through a neighboring ranch, according to reports from Arizona’s New Times.
This second report highlights these failures in decision-making as possible explanations for the tragic deaths of the 19 hotshots that were caught in a devastating burn-over.
Another unfortunate finding of the second report is the near absence of the U.S. Forest Service from the investigation. Bill Gabbert of Wildfire Today explains:
“To my knowledge, this is the first time that the USFS has refused categorically to allow their employees to be interviewed following a serious accident that occurred on a fire. … If this is going to be the policy of the USFS going forward, it can severely disrupt future lessons learned inquiries, and in some cases could make them ‘useless.’ Interfering with the process of learning of how to prevent similar fatalities does a disservice to the dead firefighters.”
For more on the tragic Yarnell Hill Fire and the death of 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots, see Outside’s November cover story “19: The True Story of the Yarnell Fire.”