Forestry Division disputes report of Yarnell Fire errors
Officials with the state Forestry Division disputed a news report Tuesday that quoted the agency's deputy director as saying the leader of the Granite Mountain Hotshots violated wildfire safety protocols when he and 18 of his firefighters were killed in the Yarnell Hill Fire on June 30.
In a report by John Dougherty of InvestigativeMEDIA, Jerry Payne, the Arizona State Forestry Division deputy director, said Granite Mountain Hotshot superintendent Eric Marsh "violated several basic wildfire rules including not knowing the location of the fire, not having a spotter observing the fire and leading his crew through thick, unburned vegetation near a wildfire."
Forestry officials called Payne's remarks "unauthorized" in a statement Tuesday:
State Forester Scott Hunt wants to make it clear that State Forestry has taken no position on the causes of the fatalities and awaits the results of the two independent investigations that are currently being conducted by the Serious Accident Investigation Team and Arizona Department of Occupational Safety and Health.
State Forestry apologizes for Mr. Payne’s inappropriate expression of opinion as fact and unfounded speculation that prejudges the ultimate conclusion of the investigation. The investigation reports are expected to be released in the coming months.
Dougherty said he stands by the story.
"The Forestry Division statement criticizes Mr. Payne for making those statements, but it doesn't say Payne was wrong" in his assessment of what happened at the fire, Dougherty said Wednesday morning.
Dougherty discounted claims by Forestry officials that Payne's comments were made in a personal conversation, describing a wide-ranging interview in Payne's office that lasted nearly two hours Monday afternoon.
Reports on the incident "clearly are painful to the families," Dougherty said. "They'll be painful for them no matter what."