Fire Chief Describes Events Leading Up to the Deaths of Granite Mountain Hotshots

Categories: News
via John Dougherty
Prescott Wildland Division Chief Darrell Willis

A co-founder of the Granite Mountain Hotshots crew described the events leading up to the deaths of 19 firefighters in the Yarnell Hill Fire from the location where the firefighters deployed their fire shelters as a last resort in an attempt to stay alive.

Although official reports are still to be released, Prescott Wildland Division Chief Darrell Willis gave some perspective and details on what happened on the afternoon of June 30.

See also:
-Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial Placed at Location Where 19 Firefighters Died

Former New Times reporter John Dougherty recorded Willis' explanation in full.

Willis pointed out a few locations relative to the scene, including where surviving member Brendan McDonough had been and where Hotshot Andrew Ashcraft sent a photo to his wife while eating lunch -- perhaps the last photo taken of the Hotshots alive.

Juliann Ashcraft via
A photo firefighter Andrew Ashcraft sent to his wife before Ashcroft and 18 of his colleagues died fighting the Yarnell Hill Fire.

From the location where the firefighters deployed their individual shelters, a llama ranch can be seen, with structures that presumably could have been used as shelters.

Interestingly, Dougherty reports, "Reporters were asked not to photograph a nearby ranch compound that has the closest undamaged structures to where the Granite Mountain Hotshots died of a combination of burns, smoke inhalation, and carbon monoxide poisoning just 500 yards away."

Google Maps
The approximate area of the deployment site (gold star) wasn't that far from a ranch to the east.

While the firefighters were in the small canyon to the west of that ranch, they ended up getting trapped by the flames.

Willis stressed that the firefighters' priority was to protect that ranch. There's also a residential neighborhood immediately east of that ranch, where several homes ended up being destroyed.

See Willis' comments, in full, in the videos below, recorded by Dougherty:

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Follow Matthew Hendley on Twitter at @MatthewHendley.

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I still find this whole situation to be very sad and wish the best for the firefighters families and the community in recovering from their individual and collective losses.



Sympathy is certainly called for but what needs to come out of tragedies like this one is a change in how we use and train wildfire crews.   This was an avoidable tragedy, the system let these men down.


And I'm sure national incident command and other command structures will take the report that is eventually generated and incorporate the lessons learned into how, when and where (and if) they fight these fires in the future.  I don't know enough of the specifics of these circumstances to know if it was just a tragic accident or if there were systemic failures that resulted in these deaths.  At this point, though, all I have to offer is my sympathies and condolences, which is what I conveyed.



The problem is they've written reports after every other wildfire firefighter tragedy and every one for the past 20 years is summarized as people aren't consistently doing what they are supposed to do, ie they aren't learning from the lessons of past deaths.  And by people I'm not primarily talking about the Hotshots on the line, I'm talking about the command structure they rely on keep them out of harms way.

It was both a tragic accident and completely avoidable.

Read the Esperanza fire report, same stuff all over again.

The report that comes out of this tragedy will be the same, just different names and locations.

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