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State Forestry Division Apologizes for "Unauthorized Opinions" on Hotshots' Deaths

The location where the 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots died, as seen from U.S. 89.
The location where the 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots died, as seen from U.S. 89.
Arizona State Forestry Division

The Arizona State Forestry Division apologized for the "unauthorized opinions" one of its employees gave to former New Times reporter John Dougherty about the deaths of the Granite Mountain Hotshots.

Heaven forbid the public gets answers outside of the Official Government Report™.

See also:
-Hotshots Leader Violated Safety Protocols Prior to Firefighters' Deaths

Dougherty spoke with Jerry Payne, the Arizona State Forestry Division deputy director, who noted that the leader of the Granite Mountain Hotshots crew apparently ignored several wildfire-safety rules.

Payne also said that a lot of calculated risks are taken by those who fight wildfires, and he told Dougherty he wasn't sure that he would've done anything differently if he was in that situation.

Marsh led the crew into a box canyon, with a ranch just a few hundred yards away and residential housing beyond that. The crew may have anticipated having about an hour to reach the safety zone, at the ranch, but with the fire moving at 12 mph, that hour turned into minutes, and they were overrun by the fire in that canyon.

"It was a calculated risk. They didn't even make it halfway," Payne told Dougherty. "It was a serious miscalculation, in my opinion. It was an honest mistake."

These comments, however, were not approved by The Government.

The Forestry Division sent out a press release apologizing for Payne's "unauthorized opinions."

Here's exactly what the agency has to say:

The Arizona State Forestry Division (AZSF) has received numerous inquiries in reference to personal unauthorized opinions made by Deputy State Forester Jerry Payne regarding the Yarnell Hill Fire fatalities.

State Forester Scott Hunt wants to make it clear that State Forestry has taken no position on the causes of the fatalities and awaits the results of the two independent investigations that are currently being conducted by the Serious Accident Investigation Team and Arizona Department of Occupational Safety and Health.

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 investigation reports are expected to be released in the coming months.

UPDATE 11:10 a.m.: Dougherty posted to the InvestigativeMEDIA website that he stands by his story.

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Follow Matthew Hendley on Twitter at @MatthewHendley.


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