Yarnell Hill Firefighter Deaths: Arizona Forestry Division Fined $500K

Image: Yarnell Hill Firefighter Deaths: Arizona Forestry Division Fined $500K Photos of the 19 fallen Granite Mountain Hotshot firefighters and the lone survivor of the fatal blaze hang on a fence outside Fire Station No. 7 in Prescott, Ariz.

Friday, 06 Dec 2013 09:51 AM

By Clyde Hughes

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The Arizona Division of Forestry Wednesday was slapped with a half a million dollars worth of fines for its oversight of the Yarnell Hill forest fire near Prescott that killed 19 firefighters.

The Arizona Industrial Commission approved three workplace-safety citations against the division, according to the Arizona Republic. The division will have to pay penalties totaling $559,000.

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Violations include inadequate fire-suppression planning and poor communications during the blaze.

An investigation into the fire concluded that firefighters battling the blaze June 29-30 were "being unnecessarily and unreasonably exposed to the deadly hazards of wildland firefighting, the most catastrophic being the entrapment, burn-over, and death of 19 members of the Granite Mountain Interagency Hotshot Crew," according to an industrial commission news release on the investigation.

The news release stated at the forestry division "failed to prioritize the safety of firefighters over the protection of non-defensible structures and property."

"Investigations to determine whether occupational safety and health violations have occurred are critical to the protection of employee safety and health," Bill Warren, director of the Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health, said. "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."

The Arizona Republic reported that the forestry division failed to develop a detailed plan "during the life-threatening transition between initial attack and extended attack fire operations," and that it allowed for "critical incident management personnel" to be absent or late during key moments in the fire.

The forestry division has 15 days to contest the citations and penalties to the industrial commission.

The Associated Press reported that some family members who attended Wednesday's hearing quietly cried when the names of the dead were read.

Juliann Ashcraft, whose husband, Andrew Ashcraft, was killed, said the report revealed critical information about the incident and how her husband and other firefighters were put in harm's way.

"Finally, people that are educated, that are experienced, that have researched it and have a less biased opinion — they're just there objectively — that they get it," she said.

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