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."
Tuesday, December 10 2013 6:26 PM EST2013-12-10 23:26:06 GMT
WASHINGTON, D.C. (12/10/2013) - The federal government closed Tuesday due to severe snow and ice, but lawmakers are continuing to work on a budget deal ahead of another tight January deadline. However,More >>
Nearly 130,000 people in Ohio are set to lose their unemployment benefits if Congress does not pass an extension to the federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation program.More >>
Tuesday, December 10 2013 10:56 PM EST2013-12-11 03:56:08 GMT
There isn't a minute that goes by that Julia Niswender's family doesn't think about her.Even one year after her death, the feelings of loss and heartbreak are fresh."Tonight, is another opportunity toMore >>
Friends and family remember Julia Niswender, 23, one year after she was found dead in her apartment. Police have yet to make an arrest.More >>
Tuesday, December 10 2013 8:31 PM EST2013-12-11 01:31:51 GMT
The 13abc I-team was the first to tell you about cuts coming to the health insurance of Lucas county employees and Tuesday it became official. Nearly 700 Lucas County employee spouses will be losing theMore >>
The 13abc I-team was the first to tell you about cuts coming to the health insurance of Lucas county employees and Tuesday it became official. Nearly 700 Lucas County employee spouses will be losing the health insurance they now use.More >>
Tuesday, December 10 2013 8:09 PM EST2013-12-11 01:09:51 GMT
"The best way to spread Christmas cheer is ringing loud for all to hear!" 13abc is once again adopting a Red Kettle for The Salvation Army. On Thursday you'll see familiar faces throughout the day inMore >>
"The best way to spread Christmas cheer is ringing loud for all to hear!" 13abc is once again adopting a Red Kettle for The Salvation Army. On Thursday you'll see familiar faces throughout the day in front of The Andersons in Maumee.More >>
Tuesday, December 10 2013 6:27 PM EST2013-12-10 23:27:03 GMT
Toledo Police continue to look for the suspects responsible for a double murder Monday night.Two men were killed inside a home at 25 East Pearl street near Lagrange after someone shot it up. "He was notMore >>
Toledo police continue to look for the suspects responsible for a double murder Monday night after a house was shot up. It happened at 25 East Pearl street near Lagrange. 23 year old Darnell Green and 25 year old John Hill were killed. More >>
Tuesday, December 10 2013 6:24 PM EST2013-12-10 23:24:34 GMT
The dog known as "Princess P" is ready to find a "Forever Home" after surviving a horrible case of animal neglect in Toledo. Earlier this year, Lucas County Canine Care and Control found the pup withMore >>
The dog known as "Princess P" is ready to find a "Forever Home" after surviving a horrible case of animal neglect in Toledo.More >>
Tuesday, December 10 2013 3:37 PM EST2013-12-10 20:37:37 GMT
Wake Forest has hired Bowling Green's Dave Clawson to become the Demon Deacon's next football coach. In formally announcing the moved, athletic director Ron Wellman on Tuesday said in a release thatMore >>
Wake Forest has hired Bowling Green's Dave Clawson to become the Demon Deacon's next football coach.More >>