An Arizona commission approved a nearly $560,000 fine on Wednesday against the state Forestry Division in the deaths of 19 firefighters after an investigative agency found that officials put protection of property ahead of safety and should have pulled out crews earlier, reports the Associated Press.
The vote by the state Industrial Commission came after the Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health had proposed a trio of citations with financial penalties in its investigation of workplace violations.
The safety agency said forestry officials managing the Yarnell Hill Fire northwest of Phoenix failed to promptly remove downwind crews when suppression became ineffective, placing firefighters at risk for death, burns and smoke inhalation.
“In this particular fire there were lots of things going sideways, from all aspects,” said Marshall Krotenberg, the safety agency’s lead investigator.
All but one member of the Granite Mountain Hotshots died June 30 when they became trapped in a brush-choked bowl near Yarnell. The Arizona State Forestry Division oversaw the fight against the blaze on state land.
The commission’s chairman, David Parker, said he believed the fire management team on site did everything in its power to defend the community and provide for the safety of people.
“But it’s not the intention of the people that (is) in question, it’s that employees remained exposed after they no longer should be exposed,” he said.
Carrie Dennett, a spokeswoman for the Forestry Division, said the agency fully cooperated with the investigation and declined comment on the report and the commission’s action.
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