Granite Mountain Hotshots Leader Violated Safety Protocols Prior to Firefighters' Deaths

Categories: News
deployment-site.jpg
Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial via Facebook
The "deployment site," where the 19 firefighters died, is just beyond where the yellow line ends.


The leader of the Granite Mountain Hotshots crew apparently violated several wildfire-fighting safety protocols in the moments before 19 of the crew's 20 members were killed in the Yarnell Hill Fire.

Eric Marsh, the superintendent of the Granite Mountain Hotshot crew, was one of the 19 firefighters killed in the fire and was operating as a "division supervisor" at the time.

See also:
-Fire Chief Describes Events Leading Up to the Deaths of Granite Mountain Hotshots
-Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial Placed at Location Where 19 Firefighters Died

Jerry Payne, the Arizona State Forestry Division deputy director, told former New Times reporter John Dougherty that Marsh apparently ignored several wildfire-safety rules by not knowing the location of the fire, not having a spotter watching the fire, and leading his crew through unburned vegetation.

"The division supervisor broke those rules and put those people at risk," Payne told Dougherty.

However, Payne added that a lot of decisions are made by those leading wildfire-fighting crews are more calculated risks, rather than strictly according to the rulebook.

"This is...a mistake that any [of] us [could] have made," Payne told Dougherty.

The aforementioned rules are part of a simple list of firefighting rules developed by the National Interagency Fire Center, called "18 Watch Out Situations."

The fire was perhaps two miles away from the Hotshot crew when Marsh led the crew into a box canyon, with a ranch just a few hundred yards away and residential housing beyond that.

Meanwhile, the incoming storm drastically changed the behavior of the fire. The crew may have anticipated having about an hour to reach the safety zone, at the ranch, but with the fire moving at 12 mph, that hour turned into minutes.

"It was a calculated risk. They didn't even make it halfway," Payne told Dougherty. "It was a serious miscalculation, in my opinion. It was an honest mistake."

As the firefighters moved into the box canyon, they didn't have a direct view of the fire, and Brendan McDonough, the lone survivor of the hotshot crew, was no longer spotting the fire for the rest of the crew, as his position as a lookout had been overrun by flames.

In addition to that, it appears that Marsh wasn't in contact with the aircraft spotters, although it's unclear at this point whether they were still in the air, as all aircraft had been grounded around the time the Hotshots moved into that canyon.

"The crew also had no clear escape route, but instead bushwacked through thick chaparral that slowed their movement down the hillside," Dougherty reports. "And finally, the hotshots did not have clear access to a safety zone if their path was cut off by fire."

The 19 firefighters deployed their fire shelters in that canyon and were all found dead after others located the deployment site.

There's still an interagency report on the deaths that is expected to be released by September, and Payne's agency, the state forestry division, is not involved in that investigation.

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Follow Matthew Hendley on Twitter at @MatthewHendley.



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17 comments
Gary Waterman
Gary Waterman

"The fire was perhaps two miles away from the Hotshot crew when Marsh led the crew into a box canyon, with a ranch just a few hundred yards away and residential housing beyond that." It sounds to me like he DID know where the fire was before trying to negotiate just a few hundred yards either to a safer location or in an attempt to set up safety lines around the ranch home...or both. As far as having a spotter goes they were 'on the move'. A spotter is not always in place when a crew is on the move because the spotter is frequently on the move as well. We do not live on a planet where ridge tops will always get you from point "A" to point "B". With a spotter moving up and down from ridge tops to valleys while a crew is doing the same communication can be sketchy at best. It sounds more like they DID know where the fire was and made a conscious and thoughtful decision to move to a different location while they had the chance to do it. Unfortunately a small series of things came up that ultimately culminated in this tragedy. I do not have a problem with people openly discussing this situation. 19 people died. Questions need to be answered. Families need to know. Lessons need to be learned. If the best information available doesn't look good for a particular person, it is what it is. It can't be ignored to save feelings when the lesson learned could save lives. On another note. NT please notice it took a reporter leaving your rag to actually start real journalism. Dougherty actually left his home, drove somewhere and investigated a story. He didn't just monitor other peoples social media, comment on it and call himself a reporter. I give him credit for that. Why on earth he would feel any obligation to feed real news reporting back to his former employer is beyond me. It will only serve to discredit him.

Eric Petsel
Eric Petsel

sorry new times still like ya for the entertainment info , but the politics a little brain washy leftist and always landing in the center of negativeville, ain't nothing right about that .if it helps you any ... I despise CNN and fox equally . I just can't do it . I can't forget these guys doing their best ..choosing to do this in 110 degrees add fire add 75 pounds of equipment and full cover flame retardant suits . Holy hell . And us pencil pushers are criticizing . You would have to force me at gunpoint to do that job , and in some countries that's how they would do it .

Savannah Bahe
Savannah Bahe

Good god. First the criminal background of the survivor now this? Shame.

Nikki Anam Cara
Nikki Anam Cara

I'm ok with the content of the story, part of the process is to analyze what happened (and hopefully apply the knowledge to prevent future firefighting deaths). but the headline comes across as sensationalizing and harsh. A little sensitivity please, New Times. The pain of these losses are fresh.

Danielle Blocker
Danielle Blocker

Honestly, this isn't the last time you will see this so you may as well prepare. While you don't like it, this is news. The tragedy is awful, like all tragedies....(school shooting, murders, anything where life is taken too soon), but the events all unfold in the media, every part. People will want to know the "why" of this, and no matter what it is I don't think anyone could have prepared for that fire. In pure chaos, they stood together as a unit and fought the best they could no matter what is reported they leave behind many with hearts full of gratitude for their sacrifice.

Amber Dawn
Amber Dawn

I think everyone needs to nut up and deal with the tragedy. The guy who led the crew down that route died in the fire. Newspapers are here to report.... good and bad. Have you guys READ the New Times before? They offend on a regular basis. Sorry for sounding uncaring. That's not the case.

Andrew Jones
Andrew Jones

Keep in mind, It was someone else who made the determination, not the NewTimes. I can't imagine that firefighting has a fixed set of solutions that work every time, since every fire is different.

C Will Davis
C Will Davis

Well did you forget to mention that the fire violated the whole f*ckin forest you F'n idiots! I don't know why I even liked this damn page in the first place! #RIPHOTSHOTS

William Anthony Hagey
William Anthony Hagey

It seems that all circumstances conspired against them, leading to the tragedy. The spotter's position was overrun by flames, all aircraft was grounded at the time, and the fire's behavior was altered by an incoming storm, shortening the amount of time they thought they had to reach the safety zone. I agree with the other commenters, New Times. There's no need to place blame on the leader of the crew.

Brett Giles
Brett Giles

To everyone saying this is distasteful, well, if it can save other firefighters from ignoring the same guidelines, is that distasteful? Good people make mistakes. What he may or may not have done was not unethical or evil, but maybe we can learn something from these terrible deaths.

Jason Jantzen
Jason Jantzen

I bet Payne gets fired--these comments are way too premature.

Jeff Schultz
Jeff Schultz

I couldn't agree more with the rest of you .... Classless New Times

Jill Reagan
Jill Reagan

Please let them rest in peace and let their families move on.

Mitch Phoenix AZ
Mitch Phoenix AZ

'"It was a calculated risk. They didn't even make it halfway," Payne told Dougherty. "It was a serious miscalculation, in my opinion. It was an honest mistake."' your own story..so why bring this up.

Keith Showalter
Keith Showalter

Don't taint this story with your sensationalism, I've never met anyone who was perfect, have you?

Gary Lewis
Gary Lewis

Why you assholes have to publish shit that brings a negative light. You go do that job and tell me what you would have done.

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