Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Deadly Ariz. fire prompts claims against three governments, one state agency fining another

Prescott Fire Dept. spokesman Wade Ward, left, talks with David
Turbyfill, whose son died. (Times-News photo by Ashley Smith)
Phoenix news outlets dropped their effort to get photos and documents relating to the forest fire that killed Arizona 19 "hotshot" firefighters on June 30, but now the search for answers has resumed. Last week the state Forestry Division released a video and thousands of pages of documents even including text messages and photos taken by other fire crews, Brian Skoloff reports for the Associated Press.

"Additional claims are being filed against the state, Yavapai County and the city of Prescott," the Arizona Daily Star in Tucson reports. Property owners blame negligence for the loss of their homes, Dennis Wagner and Yvonne Wingett Sanchez report for The Arizona Republic. The discussion about this disaster is far from over.

After a "swift and superficial original investigation report and other obfuscation of evidence, the Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health has cited the Arizona Forestry Division and fined it $559,000," saying  non-defensible structures were prioritized over firefighters' lives and that supervisors behaved irresponsibly., Billie Stanton writes for the Times-News in Twin Falls, Idaho, reporting that some have begun to suspect there is more to the story.

"The Granite Mountain Hotshots' bodies were moved off the site within 24 hours," Stanton writes. Following the South Canyon Fire near Glenwood Springs, Colo., on July 6, 1994, Missoula smokejumper Wayne Williams insisted the bodies not be moved because if they were, "any opportunity to learn from the event would be lost," Stanton notes. Evidence in such cases includes body locations and conditions, locations of fire shelters, condition of clothing and tools, and the direction of firefighters' steps and travel.

The state closed off the Prescott site. "They were trying to protect the sanctity of that site, of our guys," said Wade Ward, public information officer for the Prescott Fire Department. Stanton writes, "But a closed site yields no answers that could protect the sanctity of other firefighters' futures." Some wildfire professionals think that the hotshots tried to get to a place where they could continue to battle the fire to save Yarnell. "I think they took a calculated risk," said Randy Skelton, deputy fire staff officer on Idaho's Payette National Forest. (Read more)

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