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Families of the Fallen Granite Mountain Hotshots Are Not Getting the Answers They Need

If anyone knows why the Granite Mountain Hotshots left a safe area on top of the Weaver Mountains west of Yarnell and descended into a box canyon that became the worst death trap in the nationwide history of such crews, it's Brendan McDonough.

The only survivor of the 20-member hotshot crew that perished in the Yarnell Hill Fire on June 30, 2013, McDonough, 23, is in the unique position to have heard some, if not all, of the discussions between Granite Mountain Supervisor Eric Marsh and Captain Jesse Steed in the moments before Marsh, Steed, and the others died.

What McDonough heard could explain why the crew moved off the mountain and whether it was ordered to do so by fire commanders. But McDonough isn't speaking publicly, and two state-sponsored investigations into the tragedy have shed no light on what he heard over Granite Mountain's intra-crew radio channel.


For complete coverage of the aftermath of the Yarnell Hill Fire, visit our Special Reports page.

His silence has angered one widow who believes it's time for McDonough to share what he knows.

"The answers I've received from him are brief, and clearly he's been coached," Juliann Ashcraft writes in reply to an e-mail sent to 12 families who are plaintiffs in a wrongful-death lawsuit against the Arizona Forestry Division, the Central Yavapai Fire District, and individual fire commanders.

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John Dougherty
Contact: John Dougherty