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World & Nation

Videos of Yarnell fire capture concern as elite unit becomes trapped

The worried voices have an immediacy that only video can capture, especially after numerous images of massive fires flaring in the distance. It is Sunday, June 30, 2013, and an elite unit of firefighters, the Granite Mountain Hotshots, were somewhere off in the distance.

“Come on, Granite, let’s hear you talk here,” says a voice on one of the 21 video clips posted Saturday on the Arizona State Forestry Division website.

Then, another voice is ominously heard: “It’s been at least 30 minutes.”

“It’s a long time,” says another.

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“Especially in this fuel type.”

Nineteen of 20 of the Granite firefighters died that day as the Yarnell Hill fire, fed by strong winds that took an unexpected turn, continued to grow until it had devoured about 8,400 acres. In the battle against the blaze, the deaths of the elite crew were the worst loss of life in a U.S. wildfire since the 1930s.

Officials inside and outside government have studied the tragedy and have called for better training and equipment. Even though the disaster has been well documented, the latest videos provide a powerful picture that government reports have lacked.

The video clips, shot by other firefighters, show increasing concern about the Granite Mountain crew and its fate.

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The sequence of videos ends as the bodies are found. The images of the bodies have been redacted.

In a posting on its website, the forestry division said the video clips were obtained from the U.S. Forest Service through a request under the Freedom of Information Act. The videos were edited by the Forest Service.

The Arizona Republic, under the state’s public records law, previously requested all forestry records on the Yarnell Hill fire and the subsequent investigations of the deaths of the Granite Mountain Hotshots.

Even though the tragedy is well known, the emotions in the videos remain raw.

One of the videos previously had been released.

It shows firefighters listening to radio traffic between Granite Mountain and members of the command staff, who sounded puzzled about what was going on, with one person saying he thought the crew was in a safety zone.

Eric Marsh, the superintendent of the Granite Mountain crew, can be heard on the clip, saying the Hotshots were preparing a deployment site. The clip ended with the command staff trying several times to reach the Granite Mountain crew by radio.

In one of the videos, a person asks, “How many were in there?”

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“Maybe they’re in their shelters,” a hopeful voice on another video says.

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