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Forestry official confirms commenting on Hotshot fire deaths

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Forestry official confirms commenting on Hotshot fire deaths

  • Incident Information System
  • A Granite Mountain Hotshot t-shirt is draped over a cactus. The shelter deployment site is behind. The crew descended into the box canyon from the saddle on the ridge.
    John Dougherty/InvestigativeMediaA Granite Mountain Hotshot t-shirt is draped over a cactus. The shelter deployment site is behind. The crew descended into the box canyon from the saddle on the ridge.

Arizona Deputy State Forester Jerry Payne has confirmed that he made the comments attributed to him by InvestigativeMEDIA in a July 30 article in which Payne was quoted as saying the leader of the Granite Mountain Hotshots made mistakes in the moments leading up to his death and the deaths of 18 members of his crew.

Carrie Dennett, a Forestry Division spokeswoman, is quoted by Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services as saying Payne “did admit making the comments.”

In the story posted Wednesday, Fischer reported, “The dispute he (Payne) has with the (InvestigativeMEDIA) report, Dennett said, is that it did not make clear that this was just his personal opinion and not part of any official finding or statement.”

Capitol Media Services also reported that Gov. Jan Brewer said Wednesday that Payne expressed his own opinion about the June 30 deaths during the Yarnell Hill Fire. But she said any such conclusions were premature, as the investigation is ongoing.

Payne’s confirmation that he made the statements attributed to him is a reversal from statements he and the Forestry Division made on Tuesday when they said InvestigativeMEDIA misquoted Payne.

Payne told The Arizona Republic that he was misquoted and misrepresented in the online article. He said the report’s author, John Dougherty, “went way, way outside of what I believe I told him. I did not say Marsh broke the rules.”

Forestry Division spokesman Jim Paxon repeatedly told broadcast and print media that InvestigativeMEDIA misquoted Payne and fabricated the story.

Paxon assailed InvestigativeMEDIA’s report as a “lie” in an interview with the Arizona Republic that was later reprinted in USAToday.

“Jerry Payne says he did not utter any words that condemned or pointed a finger at Eric Marsh,” Paxon is quoted as saying in the Arizona Republic. “Mr. Dougherty took extreme liberties and drew his own conclusions. … This is a textbook example of yellow journalism.”

Paxon told KTVK-Channel 3 that InvestigativeMEDIA’s story was, “misquoted and erroneous.”

In response to the criticism from Payne and Paxon, InvestigativeMEDIA posted a statement Wednesday standing behind the story and reporting.

InvestigativeMEDIA interviewed Payne on the afternoon of July 29 at the state Forestry Division. The meeting was requested by Payne to go over Forestry Division records that had been requested by InvestigativeMEDIA under the state public records law. At no time did Payne request to “go off the record” in response to questions.

During the course of the interview, Payne confirmed that Granite Mountain Hotshot superintendent Eric Marsh was acting as a division supervisor on June 30 and had the authority to make independent tactical decisions on where and when to move the Granite Mountain crew.

Payne stated that wildfire safety protocols appear to have been violated when Marsh led his team out of a safety zone where the fire had already burned and down into a chaparral choked box canyon in an effort to reach the town of Yarnell. The men were trapped at the base of canyon by the inferno.

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InvestigativeMEDIA founder John Dougherty has more than 30 years of experience in the mainstream and alternative news media working as an investigative reporter, business and political writer, columnist and publisher. He sought the Democratic nomination to the U.S. Senate in 2010.

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