On June 22, eight days short of the second anniversary of the 2013 Yarnell Hill Fire fatalities, a team of five fire scientists from the Missoula Fire Sciences Laboratory visited the site and the communities of Yarnell and Prescott. Two of the local principals responsible for conducting the recovery and working with families and the community following the burnover served as hosts and guided the tour. It was the longest day of the year and forecast to be a hot one. FFS Team Leader Bret Butler, the principal investigator responsible for development of improved safety zone and escape route guidelines for wildland fire, describes his thoughts and the subsequent events leading to this emotional field visit.
“When news of the Yarnell Hill fire reached me in 2013 I was shocked, frustrated, and even angry. Asking how could an experienced crew leave a safe zone and walk into the fire? I was so upset that I could not read the report when it came out. My frustration continued through 2014. When [FFS Mechanical Engineer] Dan Jimenez and I were working on a fire in Northern Arizona in 2014, we met Ralph Lucas, a division supervisor on the fire. [Ralph facilitated the efforts to extract the victims from the incident, contacted and supported the families of the victims after the incident, and served as a local liaison for the incident—his commitment, involvement, and leadership continues to this day] In our discussions, Ralph expressed interest in supporting our work to improve understanding and capacity to manage fire safely, specifically our work on firefighter safety zones. Naturally, when he stated that he was the Battalion Chief on the Prescott Fire department with oversight of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, discussion led to the Yarnell Hill fire, with questions from me about what had happened. How could a crew leave a safe area? What were they thinking? Ralph expressed his thoughts and ended with an invitation to facilitate a visit to the fire site. It was later in the spring of 2015 that, in Pete Gordon we found another source of localinformation about the Yarnell Hill. Pete is the Fire, Fuels, and Aviation Staff Officer for the Prescott National Forest and was deeply involved in providing support after the incident. When Pete heard we were trying to find an opportunity to visit the fire location, he offered to assist and participate in our visit.”
Joining Bret and Dan were FFS Mechanical Engineer Jason Forthofer, Forester Chuck McHugh, and Program Manager Colin Hardy. Together with their hosts, the team visited the fatality site and hiked portions of the route taken by the Granite Mountain Hotshots, visited fire stations at Yarnell and Prescott, and ended at the memorial area created for the fallen firefighters at the cemetery in Prescott.
Because the site of the burnover and fatalities was under Arizona State Land Department ownership, conversion of the site to any other purpose first required an open, public auction. On June 30 of this year, as part of the second anniversary ceremonies, the Arizona State Land Department formally auctioned the 320-acre parcel surrounding the fatality site to enable its permanentdedication as the Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial State Park. In honor of the 19 fallen firefighters, the winning and only bidder was Arizona State Parks Executive Director Sue Black, holding bidder number ’19.’
Andrew Ashcraft – Age 29, Robert Caldwell – Age 23, Travis Carter – Age 31, Dustin Deford – Age 24, Christopher MacKenzie – Age 30, Eric Marsh – Age 43, Grant McKee – Age 21, Sean Misner – Age 26, Scott Norris – Age 28, Wade Parker – Age 22, John Percin – Age 24, Anthony Rose – Age 23, Jesse Steed – Age 36, Joe Thurston – Age 32, Travis Turbyfill – Age 27, William Warneke – Age 25, Clayton Whitted – Age 28, Kevin Woyjeck – Age 21, Garret Zuppiger – Age 27.