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Forestry official’s comments on Yarnell fire lead to outrage

PHOENIX — The State Forestry Division is receiving backlash after its deputy director commented on what led to the deaths of 19 Granite Mountain Hot Shots in the Yarnell Hill Fire.

According to, Deputy Director Jerry Payne said the hotshot’s leader, Eric Marsh, “violated several basic wildfire rules including not knowing the location of the fire.”

At least one family of a fallen firefighter was quick to respond to the accusations, telling Channel 12, “I know I watch my husband cry every night, and I know that those boys are missed,” Shari Turbyfill told the station.

Her stepson, 27-year-old Travis Turbyfill, died fighting the wildfire. “To put it all one person’s shoulders is absolutely an outrage.”

In a statement released Tuesday, forestry officials distanced themselves from Payne’s comments.

“State Forestry apologizes for Mr. Payne’s inappropriate expression of opinion as fact and unfounded speculation that prejudges the ultimate conclusion of the investigation,” the statement said.

Spokesman Jim Paxon told KTAR that Payne’s comments are not consistent with State Forestry’s position on what led to the tragedy.

“We don’t have a position. We’re not commenting until the report comes out,” said Paxon.

There are two accident investigations into what happened on June 30. The first is expected to be released by the Serious Accident Investigation Team on Sept. 16. The other will be released by the Occupational Safety and Health Adminstration, and may not be completed for six months.