Investigation opens into why Yarnell Hill Fire killed 19
This photo was the last photo Andrew Ashcraft texted to his wife before he and 18 other Hotshots were overcome by the Yarnell Hill Fire. (Source: Facebook)
PRESCOTT, AZ (CBS5/AP) -
Investigators are in Yarnell to figure out why 19 elite firefighters perished in the Yarnell Hill Fire and whether human error played a role in the tragedy.
The investigation will look at whether the Hotshot crew paid attention to the forecast, created an escape route and took other precautions developed after a similar disaster in Colorado nearly two decades ago.
The bodies of the 19 firefighters from the Granite Mountain Hotshots crew were brought off the mountainside where they were overtaken by the fire, and brought to the Maricopa County Medical Examiner's Office, where the causes of death will be officially determined.
The team of about 10 investigators from various agencies also will look at whether the crew should have been pulled out before the fire exploded on Sunday.
The independent investigation will be led by Florida State Forester Jim Karels. Mike Dudley, acting director of Cooperative Forestry for the USDA Forest Service, will be the secondary team lead.
Others participating in the investigation include the U.S. Forest Service Missoula Technology and Development Center, the Missoula Fire Department, the Bureau of Land Management and Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health. Team members are technical specialist and fire behavior analysts.
The local liaisons to the nine-member Yarnell Hill Investigation Team are Arizona State Forester Scott Hunt and Prescott Fire Chief Dan Fraijo.
"These investigators, with 30-plus years of experience, are scientists," Jim Paxon toild CBS 5 News. Paxson is a founding member of the Arizona Wildfire Academy and served on the Southwest Interagency Incident Management Team during the Rodeo-Chediski Fire in 2002.
"They will try to discern what happened and how can we prevent it in the future," he said. "They will try to reconstruct the fire as it blew up and ran over the Granite Mountain crew."
Paxson said they will use a number of tools and to determine just why it was so intense and extreme that the firefighters' fireproof tents didn't protect them.
About 500 firefighters are fighting powerful winds as they continue to battle the fire, which has burned about 13 square miles.
Yavapai County authorities said about 50 homes and other structures burned in Yarnell, and hundreds of people have been evacuated.
Copyright 2013 CBS 5 (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.