Incident Commander Reflects on Yarnell (AZ) Fire

Roy Hall, incident commander on the fatal Yarnell Hill Fire three months ago, said he continues to grieve for families but is gratified that an investigative report exonerated his command team, reports USA Today.

“I worked really hard for 40 years to make sure this would never happen,” he says. “And it happened. … There are hard things to do in fires, and this was the hardest — the hardest day. I’ve had one sleepless night in my life, and that was June 30.”

In his first detailed interview since 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots were killed on the fireline, Hall said, “There’s no smoking gun here,” said Hall, a retired U.S. Forest Service firefighter who now works part time for the Arizona Division of Forestry. “There’s nothing we could have done differently that would necessarily have changed the outcome.”

Hall, a 58-year-old resident of this Verde Valley community, knew what he was getting into as he drove to the Yarnell Hill Fire on the morning of June 30, preparing to take command.

Record heat, tinder-dry brush and a forecast for monsoon storms presented a worst-case scenario. As a former hotshot boss, Hall had worked killer fires in the past. He’d seen firestorms run through chaparral country and watched crews cover up with shelters as flames overran them.
At a 7 o’clock briefing that morning, Hall tried to absorb intelligence on the fire and operations already underway, with safety as the No. 1 concern.

“My first thoughts were, ‘We’ve talked about Yarnell Hill since the 1970s.’ It’s explosive. It’s very, very dangerous,” he said. “And the last week in June is the most condemning for fire activity in Arizona.”

Just 10 hours later, the Granite Mountain Hotshots got trapped and died in a U-shaped valley, the greatest loss of wildfire responders in nearly six decades.

Read more of the interview here

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