PRESCOTT, Ariz. – A three-month investigation into the June deaths of 19 firefighters killed while battling an Arizona blaze cited poor communication between the men and their support staff and revealed that an airtanker carrying flame retardant was hovering overhead as the firefighters died.
The 120-page report released Saturday found that proper procedure was followed and assigned little blame for the worst firefighting tragedy since Sept. 11, 2001.
All but one member of the Granite Mountain Hotshots crew died June 30 while protecting the small former gold rush town of Yarnell, about 80 miles northwest of Phoenix, from an erratic, lightning-sparked wildfire.
Hotshots are highly trained backcountry firefighters who hike deep into the brush to fight blazes.
While maintaining a neutral tone, the investigation cited badly programmed radios, vague updates, and a 33-minute communication blackout just before the flames engulfed the men.
Without guidance from headquarters or their lookout, who had left after warning the crew, the men had bushwhacked into a canyon that soon turned into a bowl of fire.
As the flames overcame the men, a large air tanker was hovering above, trying to determine their location.
The firefighters may have failed to communicate during that crucial half hour because they entered a dead zone, or because they were wary of overloading the radio channels.