Radio problems cited in deaths of 19 firefighters - KMSP-TV

Radio problems cited in deaths of 19 firefighters

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PRESCOTT, Ariz. -

After three months, details have been released about the wildfire that led to the death of the 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots.

A lot of people hoped the 116 page report would offer some closure to a terrible tragedy.

The report doesn't place any blame and finds no reckless actions on the part of the 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots.

The findings call the fire "not survivable."

The report was released at Prescott High School's theater. While a lot was revealed in the 116 pages, there are a lot of questions we will never have answered.

As part of a fire investigative report, an animation shows the 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots were on a ridge June 30, fighting the Yarnell Hill fire that was moving away from them.

But around 4 p.m., the crew left the ridge and went to a ranch deemed the "safe spot." No one knows why.

Investigators say no one asked them to change location. In fact, they say vague radio communication led to confusion over where they were.

The report says radio communication was a challenge throughout the incident.

There was no radio contact with the hotshots for 30 critical minutes.

"As far as we know, their radios were working. They could communicate, they just did not communicate, some of that is pretty common," said Scott Hunt, with Arizona State Forester.

Firefighters headed from one safe spot to another and lost their view of the fire.

Around 4:30 p.m., 40 mph winds whipped the fire into a frenzy.

The fire changed direction and overran the firefighters.

The temperatures reached 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, similar to lava.

The report says they had two minutes to clear a safe spot and deploy shelters.

"Whatever you had would not have been survivable," said Mike Dudley, with the investigation team.

The last radio communication with the firefighters' the division leader says,"Granite Mountain Hotshots Division Alpha. We are burning out around ourselves in the brush and I'll give you a call when we are under the shelters."

All 19 firefighters died.

The report found no indication of negligence, reckless action or violations of policy or protocol.

Investigators gave seven recommendations, including updating radio communications and using GPS to track firefighters.

But one question remains, why did the hotshots leave one safe zone for another?

"We don't know that information. We don't have it. That decision-making process went with those 19 men," said Jim Karels, investigation team leader.

Investigators admit the account of what happened June 30 is not complete and never will be.

They know people will pour over the information for years to come.

Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake released a joint statement on the report: "We owe it to the honorable 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots who were lost while protecting others, and to all who risk their lives fighting wildfires to learn from this event and implement changes that will protect first responders going forward. Our country remains ever grateful for their sacrifice."

Read the Yarnell Hill Fire report here: https://sites.google.com/site/yarnellreport

After three months, details have been released about the wildfire that led to the death of the 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots.
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