Arizona State Forestry Division Fined For Handling Of Yarnell Hill Fire

By Al Macias, Alexandra Olgin
Published: Wednesday, December 4, 2013 - 6:19pm
Alexandra Olgin - KJZZ
The Industrial Commission of Arizona hearing on the Arizona Division of Occupational Health and Safety report on the Yarnell Hill Fire investigation.

The Arizona State Forestry Division was fined nearly $560,000 in violations for the way the department handled the Yarnell Hill Fire. The Industrial Commission of Arizona approved the fines after the findings from the Arizona Division of Occupational Health and Safety at a hearing Wednesday.

The Industrial Commission voted to fine the State Forestry Division for three violations. Two of the citations were for workplace safety violations. The third was for what investigators say was a willful serious violation.

Safety Compliance Supervisor Marshall Krotenberg says the investigation found the State Forestry Division had knowingly put their employees in danger.

“The employer implemented suppression strategies that prioritized protection of a non-defensible structures and pasture land over firefighter safety," said Krotenberg.

Krotenberg says the tragedy boils down to a planning and communication failure. No maps were provided, plans to deal with impending thunderstorm were not made and safety officers were several hours late to the scene. Krotenberg says the Division of Occupational Safety and Health believes the breakdowns in planning and communication were a contributing factors in the deaths of the 19 hotshot firefighters.

“Those folks not being present in this partial team it increased the risk of firefighter exposure to hazards associated with inadequate planning. We were unable to determine why that occurred. Apparently it got dropped. The ball got dropped," said Krotenberg.

The wife of one of the hotshots, Juliann Ashcraft, says she suspected communication and planning failures and she is relieved to have some answers.

 “I am not trying to point a finger at any one person in incident command I just know that the problem came from complete lack of organization and communication from the people that should have been in control of the fire," said Ashcraft.

Ashcraft says this report is a step in the right direction. She says the fines have to be big enough this situation is not repeated.