Last summer’s Yarnell Hill Fire was the deadliest ever for Arizona wildland firefighters. Arizona Public Radio’s Ryan Heinsius reports that, as a result, forest managers in northern Arizona are focusing on safety.
As fire season begins in northern Arizona, officials on the Kaibab and Coconino national forests are spotlighting staff safety. Holly Krake, fire information officer on the Kaibab National Forest, says firefighter wellbeing is a top concern.
“Our goal is that every firefighter come home safe every night from every fire. And we do that, in part, by learning from every incident regardless of type or size.”
In the aftermath of last June’s Yarnell Hill Fire, which killed 19 Prescott hotshots, the Arizona State Forestry Division made several recommendations as to how the state should fight wildfire. They involve adjustments in future training and changes in the use of aviation and technology, like GPS.
Krake says current safety measures on the Kaibab National Forest will continue to be used this year, including training in lookout situations as well as establishing escape routes and safety zones.
Don Muise is fire and aviation staff officer on the Coconino National Forest. He says the Yarnell Fire has made Southwestern forest managers reinforce issues of safety.
“The tragedy of last year has just had us look real hard at our situation and redouble our efforts to make sure that we’re making — in a high-risk situation — making good decisions for the firefighters and the public out there.”
Forest managers say a dry winter and drought conditions could make for an especially bad fire season.