The Naval Postgraduate School & The U.S. Department of Homeland Security

Yarnell Hill Fire: Serious Accident Investigation Report

Following the tragedy of the Yarnell Hill wildfire in June 2013, the Prescott Fire Department released last week the final investigation report of the incident. The fire broke out on June 28 in Yarnell, Arizona and escalated due to thunderstorms and shifting winds over the course of two days. A team of firefighters, the Granite Mountain Interagency Hotshot Crew (IHC), was sent to fight the wildfire but was trapped by the flames while attempting to reach a safety zone at Boulder Springs Ranch. The wildfire took the lives of nineteen IHC firefighters.

In order to investigate the conditions of the fire and the circumstances leading to the entrapment of the IHC, the State of Arizona convened a Serious Accident Investigation Team. The following are a few of the Team's main findings:

  • The IHC was a fully qualified, staffed, and trained hotshot crew, and it followed all official operational standards and guidelines.
  • Yarnell Hill was primed to burn due to extreme drought, decadent chaparral, and above cured grass loadings.
  • The IHC had been monitoring the fire's progress but its observations did not anticiate the approaching outflow boundary of the fire or significant fire behavior changes.
  • Problems with radio communication (i.e. brief, informal, and vague radio transmissions) led to confusion about the crew's actual location at the time of search and rescue.
  • Firefighters performed within their scope of duty; the Team found no indication of negligence, reckless actions, or violations of policy or protocol.

As brave members of the IHC, we remember the victims of the Yarnell Hill Fire for their extraordinary commitment to protecting our homeland: Andrew Sterling Ashcraft, Robert E. Caldwell, Travis Clay Carter, Dustin James DeFord, Christoper A. MacKenzie, Eric S. Marsh, Grant Quinn McKee, Sean M. Misner, Scott Daniel Norris, Wade S. Parker, John J. Percin, Jr., Anthony M. Rose, Jesse James Steed, Joe B. Thurston, Travis Turbyfill, William Howard 'Billy' Warneke, Clayton Thomas Whitted, Kevin J. Woyjeck, and Garret Zuppiger.