Prescott Fire Official: Hotshots "Could Have Made It" Had Feds Sent Requested Air-Tankers
Kyle T. Webster
Prescott Wildland Division Chief Darrell Willis now claims the 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots who died fighting the Yarnell Hill Fire "could have made it" if the feds sent air-tankers requested by state firefighting officials.
Although firefighting officials made several requests for aircraft to fight the relatively small fire in Yarnell, the crews got significantly less than what they ordered.
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According to Willis, if the U.S. Forest Service would have been able to fill those orders, then maybe it would've given the Hotshots an extra 10 minutes, which Willis claims would have been enough to save the lives of the 19 men.
"If they'd had 10 more minutes, they could have made it," Willis told ABC News. "That crew was totally fit. There's no question in my mind that they would've made it."
Willis refused to answer questions or be interviewed for New Times' recent cover story on the fire, "Lambs to Slaughter." He instead waited until after the story's publication to send a letter criticizing and claiming inaccuracies in the story.
However, Willis apparently agreed to be interviewed by ABC News, suggesting that his crew would be alive today were it not for the Forest Service's shortage of airplanes.
Interestingly, ABC News cites Arizona Forestry Division spokesman Jim Paxon saying that the Yarnell Hill fire didn't get a single one of the six tankers ordered. One was supposed to be sent, but it had engine trouble and was stuck in southern California.
Information released by the forestry division shows that specific order was placed just 44 minutes before "Arizona Dispatch Center received notice from Air Attack that shelters had been deployed, unknown number and unknown exact location." Those were the 19 hotshots.
Furthermore, three tankers that had already dropped flame retardant on the Yarnell Hill Fire were grounded at 2:23 p.m. due to weather, and did not get back into the air until after the Hotshots deployed their shelters, according to dispatch logs.
But, apparently, according to Willis, the Hotshots could have lived "had any of the six U.S. Forest Service air tankers requested by the state arrived on the scene," according to the ABC News report.
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Follow Matthew Hendley on Twitter at @MatthewHendley.
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