State Capitol News
10:19 am
Thu December 5, 2013

State Forestry Division Fined for Yarnell Hill Fire Deaths

The state Industrial Commission Wednesday imposed the maximum $559,000 fine possible on the state Forestry Division following the deaths of 19 firefighters earlier this year at Yarnell Hill. Arizona Public Radio's Howard Fischer reports.

The violations came in three categories. One is that the state agency had unfilled positions of safety officer and planning section chief at the time of the June 30 deaths. The result, according to Marshall Krotenberg, the lead investigator for the state Division of Occupational Safety and Health, is that no one was around to keep an eye on what members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots were doing. The second violation is that the Forestry Division did not properly plan for the incident. But Krotenberg said the most serious transgression was essentially that the agency had the wrong priorities.

“Folks were put in positions, overly hazardous positions, to protect property that was unprotectable under the current conditions of the extreme fuel, dryness, the drought and wind conditions,” said Krotenberg.

He also singled out the failure to plan for a thunderstorm knowing that it was monsoon season and that one was on the horizon. It was the suddenly changing winds from that approaching storm that caught the 19 hotshots unaware and caused their deaths. A spokesman for Gov. Jan Brewer said Krotenberg’s office wants to study the commission’s findings before commenting on whether the state will contest the fine.