Study: Yarnell was unprepared for fire that killed 19 Hotshot firefighters

Satellite images show most homes failed to have proper buffer
2013-07-19T00:00:00Z 2013-09-04T17:47:41Z Study: Yarnell was unprepared for fire that killed 19 Hotshot firefightersCindy Carcamo Los Angeles Times Arizona Daily Star
July 19, 2013 12:00 am  • 

The Arizona community of Yarnell and its Glen Ilah subdivision were not prepared for a wildfire like the one that killed 19 firefighters - including a Tucsonan - scorched 8,400 acres and destroyed more than 100 homes, according to a report released this week by a research group.

Using satellite images and mapping software, researchers at the Pacific Biodiversity Institute found that most of the 569 buildings in Yarnell did not have proper buffer zones - areas sufficiently cleared of chaparral, shrubs and trees.

Only 63 buildings had appropriate buffer zones - and 95 percent of them survived the fire, the group found.

It had been 40 to 45 years since Yarnell had a wildfire and it was due, said Peter Morrison, executive director of the institute, which is based in Washington state.

"What happened there was totally predictable," he said. "It was totally normal from an ecological perspective. We need to acknowledge that it was going to happen. It was inevitable."

The Yarnell Hill fire was started by a lightning strike June 28. Two days later, 19 firefighters - members of the Prescott-based Granite Mountain Interagency Hotshot Crew - died when the fire overran their position near Glen Ilah.

The lack of fire preparedness in Glen Ilah and Yarnell as a whole mirrors communities in fire-prone areas throughout the West, Morrison said.

"There are thousands of communities that are just poorly prepared," he said.

The report raises questions about whether the team should have been deployed into the area at all.

Surrounded by manzanita trees and other quick-burning fuels during a heat wave with low humidity, Yarnell's situation was volatile situation, Morrison said.

"They were essentially surrounded by thousands, if not millions of gallons of gasoline," Morrison said of the firefighters. "From everything I've seen the firefighters should not have been put in that place."

The Yarnell Fire Department did not respond to requests for comment on the report.

Randy Eardley, spokesman for the National Interagency Fire Center, said he couldn't comment on whether the Prescott crew should have been deployed because the incident was under investigation.

He did say that residents in fire-prone areas needed to understand that federal, state and local fire departments cannot post a fire engine at every structure. Eardley said that clearing brush 30 feet away from a structure can make a huge difference.

"It would just be nice if people just recognized that living in those areas comes with some sort of responsibility and doing the things they need to do," he said.

"There really is an attitude where, if there is a fire, that there is going to be an engine at my house that will help me," Eardley said.

On Tuesday, Arizona's Republican U.S. senators, John McCain and Jeff Flake, introduced a bill that would give federal agencies more incentive to hire outside companies to thin trees and vegetation on federal land.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video

Follow the Arizona Daily Star

Featured businesses

View more...

Deals, offers & events

View more...

Event Calendar

Today's events | Add an event

Most viewed: