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The Granite Mountain Hotshots Died Fighting the Yarnell Hill Fire

Granite Mountain Hotshots

Granite Mountain Hotshots

A community, or perhaps an entire industry, might be weakened or revitalized by a seminal event. In 2013, 19 firefighters were killed battling the Yarnell Hill Fire that swept through the mountain village of Yarnell, Arizona.  This was the worst loss of life for the United States fire service since the September 11 attacks.

While the fire destroyed most of the area’s physical infrastructure, it also helped strengthen the resolve of locals and the wildfire-fighting community. Authorities of the fire service, together with members of the community, gathered to mourn. With such a devastating loss, many people have wondered if, and if so, how, the tragedy could have been avoided.

The tragedy sparked critically important conversations about how to best combat wildfires, and an exhaustive study detailing those debates has just been released. Overall, there have been mild, rather than dramatic, modifications made to wildland firefighting operations, although firefighter safety remains a top priority.

First, we must examine the background of the Yarnell Hill Fire and the tragic deaths of 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots: who they were, how the tragedy transpired, and how the local community has remembered them.

Everything You Need To Know About The Hotspots On Granite Mountain

Firefighters Death

The Prescott (Arizona) Fire Department had a crack unit of wildland firefighters known as the Granite Mountain Hotshots. They were also known as the Granite Mountain Interagency Hotshot Crew.

Founded in 2002 as a fuels mitigation crew, the group then evolved into a Type 2 I/A hand crew in 2004 and then a hotshot crew by 2008. Hotshot crews are highly skilled 20-person hand crews that specialize in building handlines and are available on a nationwide basis. The crew’s gear and two crew carriers, each capable of holding ten people, were stored at Station 7 of the Prescott Fire Department.

As many as 19 of the 20 Granite Mountain Hotshots were murdered in the Yarnell Hill Fire on June 30th, 2013. While the rest of the crew perished, Brendan McDonough managed to escape on his own earlier in the day.

In memory of the lost firefighting heroes:

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Burns On Yarnell Hill

Burns On Yarnell Hill

West of Yarnell, Arizona, lightning struck on June 28 and started the Yarnell Hill Fire at a high elevation. The Arizona State Forestry Division was responsible for putting out the fire.

A serious accident investigation study found that the Yarnell Hill area had not seen a wildfire in over 45 years before the 2017 blaze. Fires were likely due to the dry conditions, overgrown chaparral, and heavy loads of dried grass.

As winds picked up on June 29, flames began to break through containment lines. The Type 4 incident commander requested a Type 2 Incident Management Team (IMT) and more manpower that evening. During the night, the blaze spread to cover between 300 and 500 additional acres.

On the morning of June 30th, members of the Type 2 IMT started trickling in. The Type 2 IMT took leadership, and the incoming superintendent from Granite Mountain Hotshot became the supervisor of Division Alpha.

Investigating the Fire on Yarnall Hill

On July 3, 2013, the state of Arizona formed an accident investigation team to investigate the entrapment and subsequent fatalities of 19 members of the Granite Mountain Interagency Hotshot Team.

Florida State Forester Jim Karels headed up the inquiry team. Arizona State Forestry Division claims that the team visited the accident site, analyzed audio and video recordings, conducted interviews with relevant parties, analyzed data on fire weather and behavior, and investigated documents and physical evidence.

On September 28, 2013, the Arizona State Forestry Division announced the findings of the Major Accident Investigation into the deaths that occurred during the Yarnell Hill Fire.

The study, which is 116 pages long, details the group’s findings, as well as their suggestions. There’s also a discussion section for delving deeper into the issues and viewpoints brought up during the research process and fostering a deeper appreciation for the topic at hand.

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