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Agency recommends $560K fine in Yarnell firefighters’ deaths

PHOENIX — The Arizona agency that investigated workplace violations related to the deaths of 19 firefighters has recommended a $560,000 fine against the state Forestry Division.

The Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health presented its findings Wednesday to the state Industrial Commission. The agency’s call for penalties and citations are subject to the commission’s final say.

Among the findings were that State Forestry “failed to prioritize strategies consistent with Arizona State Forestry Division — Standard Operational Guideline 701 Fire Suppression and Prescribed Fire Policy.”

The report noted that early on June 30, the day the Granite Mountain Hotshots died, an area that had been designated a safety zone was “known to be” too small for the flames heading toward the firefighters. Air tankers were ineffective against the fire at the Double Bar A Ranch, but firefighters were told to stay until the last minute. This strategy, the report concluded, showed “fire management’s decision-making incorrectly prioritized the non-defensible structures ahead of firefighter safety,” a violation of state and interagency wildland fire policy and procedures.

The forestry division said in a release that it hasn’t reviewed the report and won’t comment. The office also said it “will have an opportunity to meet” with the authors of the report.

A chronology of the investigation listed July 1 as the start date, with ADOSH officials’ visit to the Yarnell Hill Fire incident command post, and concluding Nov. 11 with a request for time cards and firefighter qualifications for state forestry division fire management staff.