Arizona forestry division faces $559,000 fine over Yarnell Hill fire that killed 19

Posted at 5:39 PM, Dec 04, 2013
and last updated 2013-12-04 19:39:14-05
From Chuck Johnston and Mayra Cuevas


(CNN) — The Arizona Division of Forestry has been fined $559,000 for workplace violations during the Yarnell Hill fire that left 19 elite firefighters dead, state health and safety officials said Wednesday.

The state forestry division has 15 days to appeal the citations, which accuse the organization of mismanaging the fire when it failed to prioritize the safety of firefighters over the protection of non-defensible structures and property.

It also accuses the state forestry division of failing to develop the necessary action plans and fire analysis to combat the wildfire as well as failing to provide necessary and key incident command personnel.

“There are lessons that can be learned from this horrible tragedy and we owe it to the firefighters who died, and to those that risked their lives fighting the Yarnell Hill Fire, to do so,” Bill Warren, director of the Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health, said in a written statement.

The $559,000 fine is the largest handed down by the occupational safety and health division. It includes a penalty of $25,000 for each firefighter killed on June 30.

The state forestry division did not immediately respond to the findings.

The Yarnell Hill Fire, which is considered the deadliest in state history, began June 28 when lightning strikes started several fires, according to the state forestry division.

Hundreds of homes and other buildings were destroyed in the wildfire that began near Yarnell, a community of about 600 people northwest of Phoenix, authorities said at the time.

The findings of the occupational safety and health division appeared to contradict, at least in part, the finding of a state forestry division investigation that was released in September.

That report concluded there was “no indication of negligence, reckless actions, or violations of policy or protocol.”

On June 30, driven by fierce winds, the fire turned and overran the hot shot crew, authorities said.

The fast-moving fire cut off the crew’s evacuation route and its path to a safety zone, according to the state forestry division report.

“They were deploying fire shelters when the fire overtook them,” it said.

Temperatures exceeded 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, and “the deployment site was not survivable,” the report said.

The deaths of the 19 members of the Granite Mountain Interagency Hotshot Crew represented about 20 percent of Prescott’s fire department.

Killed, according to officials, were: Eric Marsh, the unit’s 43-year-old superintendent; Andrew Ashcraft, 29; Robert Caldwell, 23; Travis Carter, 31; Dustin Deford, 24; Christopher MacKenzie, 30; Grant McKee, 21; Sean Misner, 26; Scott Norris, 28; Wade Parker, 22; John Percin, 24; Anthony Rose, 23; Jesse Steed, 36; Joe Thurston, 32; Travis Turbyfill, 27; William Warneke, 25; Clayton Whitted, 28; Kevin Woyjeck, 21; and Garret Zuppiger, 27.

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