Arizona appeals citation and fines in Yarnell Hill firefighter deaths

TUCSON -- The Arizona State Forestry Division is contesting citations and fines levied the agency by a state safety commission that found it put protection of structures over firefighter safety during the Yarnell Hill fire in which 19 firefighters died.

Forestry officials — who managed the Yarnell Hill fire — appealed to the Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health, requesting a hearing to contest the $559,000 fine, said Carrie Dennett, the agency spokeswoman, in a statement  Thursday. 

Earlier this month, the Arizona Industrial Commission voted unanimously to accept the findings of a report that found the members of the Granite Mountain hotshot team were the victims of poor planning and bad communication, forced into a losing battle to protect structures and pasturelands that were "indefensible.”

The report, which was prepared by independent consultants to the Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health, also found that the firefighters were called on to fight the fast-moving blaze outside the town of Yarnell with inadequate briefing, no good maps and radios that left them without good communication with incident commanders.

"We found no evidence that a risk assessment for the strategies and tactics were examined," said the report, prepared for the state by Wildland Fire Associates. Fire overseers "reported flame lengths of 40 feet with rates of speed up to 16 miles per hour occurred, yet no one seemed to recognize these signs as trigger points that should have led to a change in tactics and relocation of [the crew]," it found.

The voluminous report found that a combination of safety violations — including lack of crucial personnel, incomplete analysis and hours-long delays — took place during the fire, which burned more than 8,000 acres of wild land and destroyed over 100 structures.

The safety agency's report is a departure from the September report that found no evidence of recklessness or negligence in the Yarnell Hill wildfire.

The earlier report, produced by a team of local, state and federal investigators convened from around the country, "found no indication of negligence, reckless actions, or violations of policy or protocol," but did note some problems with radio communication.

That report was commissioned by the state forestry division, which is now subject to the workplace safety penalties.

 

cindy.carcamo@latimes.com

@thecindycarcamo

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