Prescott Fire Official: Hotshots "Could Have Made It" Had Feds Sent Requested Air-Tankers

Categories: News
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Kyle T. Webster


Prescott Wildland Division Chief Darrell Willis now claims the 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots who died fighting the Yarnell Hill Fire "could have made it" if the feds sent air-tankers requested by state firefighting officials.

Although firefighting officials made several requests for aircraft to fight the relatively small fire in Yarnell, the crews got significantly less than what they ordered.

See also:
-Prescott's Wild-Lands Fire Commander Responds to New Times' Cover Story
-Hotshots Never Should've Been Deployed, Mounting Evidence Shows

According to Willis, if the U.S. Forest Service would have been able to fill those orders, then maybe it would've given the Hotshots an extra 10 minutes, which Willis claims would have been enough to save the lives of the 19 men.

"If they'd had 10 more minutes, they could have made it," Willis told ABC News. "That crew was totally fit. There's no question in my mind that they would've made it."

Willis refused to answer questions or be interviewed for New Times' recent cover story on the fire, "Lambs to Slaughter." He instead waited until after the story's publication to send a letter criticizing and claiming inaccuracies in the story.

However, Willis apparently agreed to be interviewed by ABC News, suggesting that his crew would be alive today were it not for the Forest Service's shortage of airplanes.

Interestingly, ABC News cites Arizona Forestry Division spokesman Jim Paxon saying that the Yarnell Hill fire didn't get a single one of the six tankers ordered. One was supposed to be sent, but it had engine trouble and was stuck in southern California.

Information released by the forestry division shows that specific order was placed just 44 minutes before "Arizona Dispatch Center received notice from Air Attack that shelters had been deployed, unknown number and unknown exact location." Those were the 19 hotshots.

Furthermore, three tankers that had already dropped flame retardant on the Yarnell Hill Fire were grounded at 2:23 p.m. due to weather, and did not get back into the air until after the Hotshots deployed their shelters, according to dispatch logs.

But, apparently, according to Willis, the Hotshots could have lived "had any of the six U.S. Forest Service air tankers requested by the state arrived on the scene," according to the ABC News report.

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Follow Matthew Hendley on Twitter at @MatthewHendley.



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15 comments
judykach
judykach

I watched that fire grow from my window from Friday night from almost nothing to the wild inferno on Sunday.   If aerial had been called in at the outset instead of waiting for the fire to grow...these men would not have had to risk and lost their lives.  Someone made the decision to let that  initial small lightening fire burn itself out, in an area known for high winds, in mountainess terrain,  so very close to the town of Yarnell.  

bgray59
bgray59

He screwed up and is trying to deflect blame to someone else.  A typical response.

TommyCollins
TommyCollins topcommenter

Bullshit. All the ground forces are directed to fight the fires with full knowledge that air support is probably not available. This is just a spin to try to redirect mistakes that cost nineteen lives for no real good reason.

Fire management should be taken to task for these deaths, but they won't be. They, however, will have to live with the truth of their failure.

pecee69
pecee69

The Feds, the Feds, always the feds to blame, they are an easy target, how about turning that steely gaze inward and place the blame where it belongs, at the feet of those who ignored weather reports, at those who had not managed the the forest for decades, at the incompetence of local "leadership".............no it's easier to blame the faceless Feds.

jdwilson1
jdwilson1

Chief Willis would not be speaking impromptu -- you can be assured his statements were vetted by the city attorney. This is a continuation of the "circle the wagons" approach. Hopefully we will soon get the official investigation reports. With a tragic loss of the lives of 19 heroes we need real facts to ensure this never occurs again. We certainty do not need public relations spin doctors injecting misdirection into this tragedy..

asdfasdf
asdfasdf

Willis is delusional and very anxious to make it sound like it was someone else's fault.

I think he should own this disaster.

rickaz59
rickaz59

First it was God's will, now it's a matter of having an adequate air force.  Does this have something to do with angel pee?

Brett Solesky
Brett Solesky

As per the usual if you want journalism done right, read in the Phoenix New Times

Linda Evans
Linda Evans

I'm curious to see how they will make this Obama's fault. :v

jonnyd
jonnyd

Funny how Chief Willis wants New Times to let him grieve, and out of decency wait for the findings of the official investigation, but he spouts off about how he thinks the hotshots just did what they were supposed to and tried to protect that ranch and now he's spouting off to ABC. Darrell, aren't you hurting the families by coming to a conclusion before the investigation is complete?! Seems Darrell can mouth off whenever he feels like it -- but NT can't do an investigative report.

eric.nelson745
eric.nelson745 topcommenter

Maybe, "what if?" If, if, if. From what we now know, those poor devils shouldn't have been where they were in the first instance. Then, the City of Prescott denies survivor and other benefits to the families. This is a scandal that's just beginning.

fishingblues
fishingblues topcommenter

@Linda Evans    Obama is a disaster.  If you are self-deluded as well as fiscally and politically ignorant enough to STILL believe he is doing a good job, then there is little hope for you.  

TommyCollins
TommyCollins topcommenter

@eric.nelson745 Not quite true, Eric. Benefits have been paid to survivors of all the fire fighters. Some of them were not paying into life insurance and retirement plans, because they were seasonal employees, thus their survivors did not. The survivors of the seasonal employees will or have received at least $328,000 in federal death benefits. Smartly invested that money will carry a typical family for many years, as a supplement to whatever normal income they may have.

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