The 19 wildland firefighters killed in Arizona appeared not to have established an escape route to a safe site large enough for the entire group, a forestry official said Monday.Continue reading.
Safety protocols require crews to have a place to go in case fire overtakes them. That did not happen in the Yarnell Hill fire Sunday. The bodies of 19 members of the Granite Mountain Interagency Hotshot Crew were found in or near their emergency fire shelters, leading officials to believe they were overrun by the wind-driven flames.
"Obviously it wasn't a big enough open field … if they had to deploy their shelters," said Art Morrison, a spokesman with the Arizona State Forestry Division.
"They were too close to heavy fuels, so they got overrun," he said.
Being overtaken by a fire you are striving to extinguish is a firefighter's worst nightmare, but it is not uncommon: Of the more than 1,000 fatalities among wildland firefighters since 1910, about 63% occurred during "burnover," when a fire front engulfed crews.
On Sunday, the grass fire had run through half of the Arizona town of Yarnell when the unpredictable winds shifted. About 4:30 p.m., fire managers lost radio contact with the crew.
The firefighters had been cutting lines at the front of the fire, the most perilous place to be, officials said. Placing a crew at the head of a fire is a rare tactic.
More at the Arizona Republic, "Yarnell Hill Fire: Seeking answers in wake of tragedy."
Also, "Yarnell Hill Fire: In small town, 'it affects every single person'," and "Yarnell Hill Fire: Fallen firefighters were in prime of their lives."
VIDEO ABOVE: "2008: Firefighters trapped in 'burnover' find safety in their emergency shelters."
Added: At WSJ, "Sudden Turn in Flames Doomed Firefighters: Officials Say 19 'Granite Mountain Hotshots' Were Killed in Burn Over; Arizona Blaze Still Raging."