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Official: Hotshot chief violated security protocols in deadly Yarnell fireplace

6 min read

PHOENIX—Eric Marsh, the superintendent of the Granite Mountain
Hotshot crew, violated wildfire security protocols when he and 18 of his
firefighters had been killed within the Yarnell Hill Fireplace on June 30, Jerry
Payne, the Arizona State Forestry Division deputy director, stated Monday.

Marsh, 43, was given vast latitude to make tactical choices within the
discipline with out first in search of permission from a superior as a result of he was
working as a “division supervisor” for a number of crews combating the hearth
whereas remaining within the discipline with the Granite Mountain Hotshots, Payne

“He (Marsh) was the boss. He was the assigned division supervisor,” Payne stated.

Payne stated that after Marsh turned a division supervisor, he delegated
command of the new shot crew to his captain, Jesse Steed. However Marsh
remained with the crew, Payne stated. Payne
stated it seems that Marsh violated a number of fundamental wildfire guidelines
together with not figuring out the placement of the hearth, not having a spotter
observing the hearth and main his crew via thick, unburned
vegetation close to a wildfire.

“The division supervisor broke these guidelines and put these individuals in danger,” Payne stated.

Payne launched Marsh’s title in response to a public information request filed by InvestigativeMedia
in search of the names of all division supervisors, operations chiefs and
incident commanders throughout the Yarnell Hill Fireplace. Payne stated there was
“some sensitivity” to releasing Marsh’s title as one of many division

The Prescott Fireplace Division, which operated the Granite Mountain
Hotshots, didn’t remark about Marsh’s position as a division supervisor
nor the state’s evaluation that Marsh violated security guidelines.

Firefighters are anticipated to comply with the “10 Commonplace Fireplace Orders” and
“18 Watch Out Conditions” always, in accordance with the Nationwide
Interagency Fireplace Middle, which coordinates wildfire administration
operations throughout the nation.

The hearth orders embody figuring out climate situations, figuring out what the
fireplace is doing always, basing all actions on present and anticipated
fireplace habits, figuring out escape routes and posting lookouts when there
is feasible hazard. The watch-out conditions embody having “unburned
gas between you and the hearth” and never with the ability to see the hearth and
not being in communication with anybody who can.

Payne stated it seems that Marsh believed he had time to steer his
crew from a secure space on a ridge that had already been burned and down a
hillside filled with a tangle of chaparral, via the closely
vegetated field canyon and to a security zone at a close-by ranch the place
vegetation had been cleared.

On the time, the hearth was a mile or two away, Payne stated

“What is the quickest manner, properly hell, we’ll simply zip down via this
valley and we bought an hour,” Payne stated describing what he believes was
going via Marsh’s thoughts on the time he made the choice to maneuver this
crew “out of the black”.

Their aim, Payne believes, was to succeed in Yarnell and help with
efforts to guard homes and different buildings that had been underway.

“It was a calculated threat. They did not even make it midway,” Payne
stated. “It was a critical miscalculation, for my part. It was an sincere

However, Payne stated Marsh knew that he “ought to have had any individual watching the hearth.”

Earlier than making their descent, Payne stated that Marsh communicated with
the Granite Mountain Hotshot lookout, Brendan McDonough, who was situated
on a unique ridge to the north, and made certain he had an escape

McDonough left his place as the hearth approached and met up with
the Blue Ridge Hotshot group that was working close by. McDonough is the
solely member of the Granite Mountain Hotshots to outlive the hearth.

Payne stated he did not imagine that the Blue Ridge Hotshots had been underneath
Marsh’s supervision, however declined to supply the title of the supervisor
overseeing the Blue Ridge crew.

Solely 5 of 19 present in fireplace shelters

About the identical time Marsh and his crew started the descent into the
wooded canyon with no lookout and with out direct view of the hearth,
highly effective downdrafts from a quickly shifting thunderstorm approaching from
the northeast reversed the course of the hearth and dramatically
elevated its depth and floor pace.

The hearth streaked throughout the dried out panorama shifting as quick as 12
miles per hour—an unprecedented charge of pace, Payne stated. Reasonably than
having an hour to succeed in the ranch security zone, the Granite Mountain
Hotshot crew would have solely minutes earlier than the hearth coated two miles.

By the point the Granite Mountain crew reached the bottom of the ridge
the hearth had swept into the canyon and was heading straight for the lads,
forcing them to deploy their fireplace shelters at about 4:47 p.m. Solely 5
of the lads had been discovered inside their shelters when a Division of Public
Security medic reached the deployment web site someday after 5:30 p.m. and
discovered all 19 males useless.

Due to climate situations, a DPS helicopter was unable to take
off for about half-hour after listening to over the radio that the Granite
Mountain Hotshots had deployed their shelters. And as soon as airborne, the
helicopter wasn’t certain precisely the place the crew was situated.

“No one knew they dropped off the hill,” Payne stated.

Payne stated that wildland firefighters are supposed to stick to fundamental
security protocols referred to as “LCES”, which stands for “Lookouts,
Communications, Escape Routes and Security Zones.” (see sidebar video)

On this case, it seems, primarily based on Payne’s evaluation, that the Granite Mountain Hotshots left the rulebook behind.

The crew started its descent into the field canyon with no lookout, Payne stated.

“As quickly as they dropped off that hill, their security zone was compromised,” Payne stated. “They needed to make a brand new one.”

Nor, Payne stated, is there any indication that Marsh sought to
talk with plane spotters that had been circling the hearth.

It’s unclear, nevertheless, whether or not all plane had been grounded
due to climate situations by the point the Granite Mountain Hotshots
made their determination to maneuver into the canyon, in accordance with plane dispatch logs launched by the Forestry Division.

The crew additionally had no clear escape route, however as a substitute bushwacked
via thick chaparral that slowed their motion down the hillside.
And at last, the hotshots didn’t have clear entry to a security zone if
their path was minimize off by fireplace.

Regardless of the obvious errors, Payne stated Marsh’s choices weren’t
in contrast to these made routinely whereas combating wildfires the place choices are
typically primarily based on a calculated threat moderately than strictly by the written

“This isn’t a mistake that any of the opposite us wouldn’t have made,”
stated Payne, who spent most of his profession combating fires and is
licensed as a Sort 3 incident commander and division supervisor.

An inter-agency incident overview group is predicted to problem its
investigation report back to the state Forestry Division in mid-September,
Payne stated. The Forestry Division will not be concerned within the
investigation and can launch the report back to the general public after it’s
reviewed by the Prescott Fireplace Division, the governor’s workplace and
members of the family, he stated.

Payne stated he expects that litigation will ensue.

“The lawsuits are going to begin,” he stated. “The sharks are circling.”


Shortly after this story was posted, Jerry Payne referred to as InvestigativeMedia and said that he was referring to the 18 Watch Out Conditions and never the ten Commonplace Fireplace Orders when he said: “The division supervisor broke these guidelines and put these individuals in danger.”

He stated wildland firefighters won’t all the time abide by the Watch Out Conditions, relying on the circumstances.

There may be, nevertheless, some over lap between the Fireplace Orders and Watch Out Conditions. Fireplace Order No. 2 states: “Know what your fireplace is doing always.”

Watch Out Scenario No. 12 states: “Can’t see foremost fireplace, not in touch with anybody who can.”

Fireplace Order No.4 states: “Establish escape routes and security zones and make them recognized.”

Watch Out Scenario No. 3 states: “Security zones and escape routes not recognized.”

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