State Forestry Division Vague About Post-Yarnell Hill Firefighting Changes

Apr 3, 2014

The state is entering the wildfire season with the Forestry Division still facing charges of violating worker safety rules last year resulting in the deaths at Yarnell Hill. Arizona Public Radio’s Howard Fischer reports.

The scene from Yarnell on June 30, 2013 as the fire burns houses in the town. Nineteen members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots died fighting the blaze.
Credit AP Photo/The Arizona Republic, David Kadlubowski

Arizona State Forester Scott Hunt faced the media on Wednesday to discuss the wildfire outlook this year. But, Hunt sidestepped questions about what changes, if any, his agency is making in how it fight fires in the wake of last year’s tragedy where 19 members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots were killed.

“We are reviewing all our safety aspects. We’re continuing to train with our firefighters, looking at lessons learned. And we’ll continue to move forward. We are still going to respond to fires. We’re going to do the best we can with safety as our paramount concern,” Hunt said.

The state Industrial Commission found the firefighters were put in “overly hazardous positions to protect property that was unprotectable.” And, it found the Forestry Division strategies “prioritized protection of nondefensible structures and pastureland over firefighter safety.” Hunt would not discuss those findings, citing his agency’s appeal and pending lawsuits by survivors.

“Our first priority is firefighter and public safety. And it’s always going to be our first priority,” he said.

But, Hunt did say that he expects when there is an initial report of a fire that there will “heavier responses” than in the past.