(Photo: David Kadlubowski, Arizona Republic)
PHOENIX -- A report released Saturday by the Yarnell Hill Fire
Serious Accident Investigation Team leaves a central question
unanswered: Why did the 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots leave a previously
burned area atop a ridge and descend into a bowl where they later were
overtaken by fire?
"Personnel who communicated with the Granite
Mountain IHC knew the crew was in the black at that time and assumed
they would stay there," the report says. "No one realized that the crew
left the black and headed southeast, sometime after 1604 (4:04 p.m.). At
1630, thunderstorm outflows reached the southern perimeter of the fire.
Winds increased substantially; the fire turned south and overran the
Granite Mountain IHC at about 1642."
"There is a gap of over 30
minutes in the information available for the Granite Mountain IHC. From
1604 until 1637, the (investigative) team cannot verify communications
from the crew, and we have almost no direct information for them," the
report notes. "There is much that cannot be known about the crew's
decisions and actions prior to their entrapment and fire shelter
deployment at around 1642."
The report concludes, however, that
the Granite Mountain Hotshots were "a fully qualified, staffed and
trained hotshot crew" current in all training, and that it "followed all
(safety) standards and guidelines."
It noted that the area of the fire "was primed to burn" because of
draught, heavy chaparral and grass, and the lack of a burn in 45 years.
Nearby homes were thereby not defensible.
The report also noted
that radio communications "were challenging throughout the incident ...
crews identified the problem, engaged in troubleshooting, and developed
workarounds so they could communicate using their radios. Radio traffic
was heavy during critical times on the fire."
It also noted that
the complexity of the fire escalated rapidly, making it difficult for
resources to keep pace with the blaze. It transitioned from a Type 4
fire (the least severe) to a Type 1 fire (the most severe) in fewer than
20 hours. Given those changes, it said the Granite Mountain Hotshots'
observations "did not lead them to anticipate the approaching outflow
boundary or the accompanying significant fire behavior changes."
had this to say about the conduct of the firefighters: "The team found
no indication of negligence, reckless actions, or violations of policy