PRESCOTT, Ariz. (AP) - A three-month investigation into the June
deaths of 19 firefighters killed while battling an Arizona blaze cites
poor communication between the men and support staff, and reveals that
an airtanker carrying flame retardant was hovering overhead as the men
The 120-page report released Saturday found that
all procedures were followed and assigned little of blame for the worst
firefighting tragedy since Sept. 11, 2001.
All but one member of the Granite Mountain Hotshots
crew died June 30 while protecting the small former gold rush town of
Yarnell, about 80 miles northwest of Phoenix, from an erratic
While maintaining that all guidelines were
followed, the investigation found improperly programmed radios, vague
updates, and a 30-minute communication blackout just before the flames
engulfed the men.
The report provides the first minute-to-minute
account of the fatal afternoon. The day went according to routine until
the wind shifted, pushing a wall of fire that had been receding from the
hotshots all day back toward them.
After that, hotshots failed to communicate their
intentions to the command center outside the burn zone. Their colleagues
thought the hotshots had decided to wait out the weather change in the
safety of an already blackened area.
They were not heard from again until five minutes
before they deployed their emergency shelters, which was more than a
half hour after the weather warning was issued. They had left the black
zone, though they had no reason to doubt its safety, and dropped into a
densely vegetated area, heading toward a ranch, according to the report.
The report states that they failed to perceive the "excessive risk" of
repositioning to this stop to continue fighting the fire.
"Nobody will ever know how the crew actually saw
their situation, the options they considered or what motivated their
actions," the report said.
The Arizona State Forestry Division presented the
roughly 120-page report to the men's families ahead of a news conference
Saturday morning in Prescott.
The fire caused little immediate concern because of
its remote location and small size when it began June 28. But the blaze
quickly grew into an inferno, burning swiftly across pine, juniper and
scrub oak and through an area that hadn't experienced a significant
wildfire in nearly 50 years.
The 20-member Granite Mountain Hotshots team
arrived early on the morning of June 30 and headed into the
boulder-strewn mountains. About nine hours later, the crew radioed that
they were trapped by flames and deploying emergency shelters. Only one
crew member who was assigned as the lookout survived.
The fire ended up destroying more than 100 homes and burned 13 square miles before it was fully contained on July 10.
No other wildfire had claimed the lives of more
firefighters in 80 years, and it was the deadliest single day for fire
crews since the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The Granite Mountain
team was unique among the nation's roughly 110 Hotshot crews as the
first and only such unit attached to a municipal fire department.
The report said the firefighters didn't anticipate
danger when they left the relative safety of a ridge top and dropped
down into a bowl surrounded by mountains on three sides, despite
warnings of the erratically changing weather that whipped the blaze into
an unpredictable inferno.
At one point, officials asked for half of the
available western U.S. heavy air tanker fleet - six planes - to try to
control the blaze. Five weren't deployed because of the limited number
in the nation's aerial firefighting fleet and the dangerous weather
conditions at the time. One plane was heading to Arizona from California
but engine problems forced it to turn back.
Forestry officials have said that even if the
planes had been available, winds were so strong they couldn't have been
used to save the firefighters' lives.
Some family members hope the investigation will bring closure. Others say it will do nothing to ease their pain.
"No matter what the report says, it won't bring him
back," Colleen Turbyfill said of her son, Travis. "I miss him, and it's
unbearable pain. It doesn't go away. Sometimes I can't breathe, but
this report isn't going to help that one way or another."
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