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 Arizona agency seeks fine in firefighters' deaths
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1 year ago

Arizona agency seeks fine in firefighters' deaths

PHOENIX (AP) - Arizona's workplace safety agency is recommending that the state Forestry Division pay a nearly $560,000 fine in the deaths of 19 firefighters.

The citations proposed Wednesday by the Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health say forestry officials managing the Yarnell Hill Fire placed the protection of structures and pastureland above firefighter safety.

The proposals also say that downwind crews weren't removed when suppression became ineffective.

The safety agency is presenting the proposals to the state Industrial Commission at a meeting in Phoenix. The commission has the final say on whether the fines are imposed.

The Arizona State Forestry Division oversaw the blaze that trapped the Granite Mountain Hotshots on state land.

A separate report into the circumstances surrounding the June 30 deaths of the firefighters found communications lapses but concluded that proper procedure was followed.

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1 year ago

Report on hotshot deaths on Yarnell Hill released Wednesday

PHOENIX - An Arizona agency that investigated workplace violations related to the deaths of 19 firefighters is recommending action against the state Forestry Division.

The Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health will present its findings Wednesday to the state Industrial Commission.

The Prescott-based Granite Mountain Hotshots had been battling the Yarnell Hill Fire under management of the Arizona State Forestry Division when all but one of the men died June 30.

ADOSH is proposing penalties and citations for the state Forestry Division. The office would not discuss specifics ahead of the meeting in Phoenix.

The commissioners have final say on any action.

A separate report found communication lapses in the crew's final hour. It also found that proper procedure was followed but did not determine whether the tragedy was avoidable.

1 year ago

Yarnell fire scene pics won't be released

PRESCOTT, Ariz. (AP) - A settlement has been reached to ensure that photos taken in connection with the deaths of 19 firefighters in Arizona won't be released to the media.

Widows and other family members of some of the Granite Mountain Hotshots killed June 30 in the Yarnell Hill Fire had asked a Yavapai County Superior Court judge to deny two media organizations' requests for access to more records.

The widows and family members cited privacy concerns and possible harm the release of the photographs could cause.

A lawsuit filed on behalf of The Arizona Republic and Phoenix TV station KPNX requested investigative records and photographs from the fire scene, but not photos of human remains or personal effects.

County Attorney Shelia Polk announced Tuesday that the Republic and KPNX have dismissed their lawsuit.

1 year ago

Shred it or recycle it event for 19 Yarnell Firefighters

TUCSON - Vice Mayor Scott, Pro-Shred and E-Green IT-Solutions are hosting an almost free event on Saturday, October 19th, from 9am to noon at 8123 E. Poinciana for families of the 19 Yarnell Firefighters.

You can bring recyclable items like computers, laptops, monitors, televisions, or even old personal documents that you want safely shredded.

They are asking for money donations to "the boot" to benefit the fallen firefighters fund or you can also donate dog/cat food, old blankets or toys to the Humane Society of Southern Arizona.

If you have any questions about the event you can call 791-3199.

1 year ago

Feds deny Ariz. appeal of Yarnell disaster denial

PHOENIX (AP) - The Federal Emergency Management Agency has again denied Gov. Jan Brewer's request for a disaster declaration because of the Yarnell Hill fire.

FEMA spokesman John Hamill confirmed Friday that Brewer's appeal had been denied.

The Small Business Administration says it will now begin offering low interest loans to homeowners and businesses affected by the fire. The loans could not be offered while the appeal was pending.

The fire that started on June 28 killed 19 members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots on June 30 as it barreled toward Yarnell. The fire burned 8,400 acres and more than 100 homes before it was controlled on July 12.

FEMA has repeatedly said the damage to uninsured private homes was not so severe that state, local and volunteer agencies couldn't handle the problems.

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1 year ago

Prescott announces memorial for Hotshots will be taken down

PRESCOTT - A memorial created for the 19 Granite Mountain Hotshot firefighters will be dismantled.

Prescott officials say the fire department and volunteers will begin removing the memorial outside of the Hotshots' station in Prescott.

The 19 firefighters died when winds drove flames into their position in a brush-choked canyon near Yarnell.

The crew was part of the Prescott Fire Department.

In the days afterward, people placed firefighting gear, clothing, flowers and other items outside the station in honor of the firefighters.

The city says items will be removed and sorted for temporary storage and possible use in a future permanent memorial.

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1 year ago

Brewer may appeal disaster denial for Yarnell fire

PHOENIX (AP) - Gov. Jan Brewer plans a press conference Wednesday to discuss the federal government's denial of disaster assistance for the June wildfire that destroyed more than 100 homes in the town of Yarnell and killed 19 firefighters.

Ariz. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick's office says the press conference is to announce an appeal.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency denied the state's disaster request on Aug. 9. The agency said in a letter to Brewer that the damage to uninsured private homes was not so severe that state, local and volunteer agencies could not handle the problems.

The state said 108 homes were destroyed and 23 damaged. It's unclear how many were uninsured.

Approval would have brought long-term federal recovery programs to Yavapai County and allow a federal team to do flood prevention work.

1 year ago

Crossfit Gym raises funds for Yarnell fallen firefighters

TUCSON - Crossfit gyms across the country fought through a tough workout Saturday to benefit the families of 19 firefighters killed battling the Yarnell Hill fire earlier this summer.

One of those gyms was Crossfit Northwest Tucson.

News four Tucson's Ryan Haarer captured some video when he did the workout.

Many of those fallen firefighters were part of the Crossfit community.

Donations came pouring in from the event.

So far, it has raised more than $165,000.

If you'd like to make a donation, you can click here.

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1 year ago

Granite Mountain Hotshot families plead for full benefits

MARANA - Granite Mountain Hotshot widow Roxanne Warneke is holding a news conference Thursday pleading for full benefits for families of seasonal firefighters.

[Click here to read the letter from Warneke to Gov. Brewer]

Her husband, Billy Warneke died in the line of duty fighting the Yarnell Hill Fire in Prescott, Ariz. Since he was considered part time, the benefits bestowed to his surviving family members are commiserate with part time.

Prescott city officials say full time benefits granted to the families of the 19 fallen Hotshots would top $50 million and is considered "illegal" under current laws.

This coming on the heels of a recent trip to Phoenix by President Obama where he denied Arizona's request for federal aid to wildfire efforts in the state.

Prescott: Full survivors' benefits would top $50M

FLAGSTAFF - The city of Prescott says it's not only illegal to extend full survivors' benefits to the families of 13 seasonal firefighters who died in the line of duty but unaffordable as well.

The city released cost estimates Wednesday showing the price tag would top $50 million over 60 years and lead to cuts in vital services. The city says a lump sum would cost $24 million - or three times the budget of the Prescott Fire Department.

The six other Granite Mountain Hotshots who died June 30 were classified as fulltime employees. The widow of one of the 13 seasonal employees has been pleading for the same benefits their families will get.

The city has canceled a meeting next week to discuss the future of the Hotshot crew.

Ariz. legislators ask Obama to reconsider fire aid

PHOENIX - Key Arizona legislators are asking President Barack Obama to reconsider his administration's denial of the state's request for federal disaster relief for Yarnell for the Yavapai County community's wildfire damage.

The Yarnell Hill Fire that killed 19 members of a Prescott firefighting crew on June 30 swept through much of Yarnell the same day, burning more than 100 homes.

The joint letter by House Speaker Andy Tobin and Minority Leader Chad Campbell cites the property damage and statements of support from Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency denied Gov. Jan Brewer's request for a disaster declaration on Friday.

PRESCOTT, Ariz. (AP) -- In the days after a wildfire killed 19 members of an elite firefighting team, the Arizona city where they were based banded together in a series of moving public memorials and tributes, overwhelmingly united in its support of the men and their families.

That unity quickly has faded since residents learned Prescott is not paying fulltime benefits to all of the families of the firefighters who died June 30.

Now, leaders of the city nicknamed "Everybody's Hometown" are receiving emails that range from vicious to complimentary for not letting emotion get in the way. Grieving widows have lashed out at city leaders in public meetings, news conferences and national TV appearances.

"I was really proud to live in Prescott because you saw people coming together, and now it's just embarrassing," resident Julie Abel said.

The source of the dispute is the fact that 13 of the firefighters were classified as temporary employees and their families are not entitled to full survivors' benefits. As a result, they receive smaller death benefits than the families of the six firefighters classified as fulltime.

The widow of fallen firefighter Andrew Ashcraft brought attention to the issue by making public pleas to city officials, saying her husband worked fulltime hours, was promised a fulltime position and deserved the more lucrative benefits.

"There were 19 men that perished in that fire and for whatever reason, there are people that feel that some of them don't deserve to be treated in a way that the others do," Juliann Ashcraft said at a news conference outside the courthouse.

Division Chief Darrell Willis of the Prescott Fire Department issued a statement Tuesday saying he made no such promise to Andrew Ashcraft and that promotions cannot be based on a verbal commitment by supervisors.

From the city's point of view, the law is clear. The 13 firefighters were not classified as fulltime, and the city said changing the rules after the fact would be illegal and also cost Prescott millions of dollars over the lifetime of the firefighters' dependents.

"It's easy to get emotional and everybody wants to do the right thing, and the city absolutely," said city spokesman Pete Wertheim. "But what is the right thing? Well, for the city it's limited by the law. And we're fully complying with it."

Juliann Ashcraft's attorney, Tom Kelly, said the city of Prescott is oversimplifying legal issues related to Andrew Ashcraft's employment status. Andrew Ashcraft had filled a leadership position that previously was fulltime, and he was making a salary similar to other fulltime employees.

"It's not simply an emotional plea, and it's not simply - from the city's standpoint - a cut-and-dried issue," Kelly said.

Last year, President Barack Obama made federal health insurance benefits available to thousands of temporary wildland firefighters and their families after a South Dakota-based Hotshot crew petitioned for the change. That benefit did not extend to the Granite Mountain Hotshots because the crew was employed by Prescott.

In Arizona, House Speaker Andy Tobin has said he'll introduce a bill in the upcoming legislative session to provide benefits retroactively to the Granite Mountain Hotshots and any emergency responder who dies on state lands in the future.

Somewhat lost in the emotion of the debate is that benefits for all the families of the Granite Mountain Hotshots also will include private donations.

Each of firefighters' families will receive a tax-free $328,000 lump sum from the federal government, Social Security benefits, workers compensation and free tuition for their children at Arizona universities. The families of the six fulltime employees also get health insurance, an increased life insurance payment and the men's annual salaries.

Outside organizations and community donations have been filling the families' immediate needs.

The 100 Club of Arizona paid out a minimum of $15,000 in cash to each of the men's families and covered remaining burial expenses and associated travel costs. Of the $3 million the group has taken in so far, more than $1.5 million has been spent, said marketing specialist Ciara Franklin.

The group has paid credit card debt for the lone survivor and can pay the fallen firefighters' bills. Franklin said it is focusing now on compiling a list of needs for the families and covering health insurance premiums for at least a year.

The total raised for the firefighters' families is unknown, but donations haven't ceased.

Fliers in the community highlight barbecues, banquets, a running race and a concert to benefit the men.

Residents struggled with the idea of providing for families whose loved ones risked their lives. None of them factored in the firefighters' benefits packages when they donated food, money or time to help the men's families. With payments from state and federal agencies and donations, "they'll have quite a bit, it sounds like," John Warner said.

Gloria Purce and Abel have written letters to Mayor Marlin Kuykendall expressing their anger over the city's position. The women said he has gone back on statements he made at the firefighters' memorial when he declared the city's everlasting support for men he referred to as sons.

"To disgrace 19 families over money - hold them up in such high regard - then act like penny-pinching fools, it's sad, just really sad," Abel said.

1 year ago

Restaurants donate proceeds in memory of the Granite Mountain Hotshots

TUCSON - Looking for a place to grab dinner and help a good cause?

RA Sushi at La Encantada is donating 100% of their profits from Friday and Saturday to the 100 Club of Arizona's Survivors Fund.

The fund was created in memory of the Granite Mountain Hotshots. It provides immediate financial assistance to families of public safety officers and firefighters who are seriously injured or killed in the line of duty, and provides resources to enhance their safety and welfare.

Profits from all of RA Sushi's dine-in food items, beverages and alcohol will be included in the fundraiser, in addition to all take-out orders.

Buffalo Wild Wings are also supporting the families of Granite Mountain Hotshots.

They will donate 10 to 15 percent of restaurant sales Saturday to the 100 Club of Arizona.

Buffalo Wild Wings has three locations in Tucson.

1 year ago

Fallen hot shot firefighters saved homes in Hereford two years ago

TUCSON - Another Southern Arizona tie to the 19 elite firefighters killed Sunday near Prescott.

It appears the Granite Mountain Hot Shots were veterans of 2011's Monument Fire outside Sierra Vista.

A survivor of the fire claims the Prescott-based hot shots saved his Carr Canyon home.

Muralist and painter Geoff McLeod had his home and artwork saved by the firefighters. He says words can't express his gratitude.

McLeod has lived in Carr Canyon for 13 years. The Monument Fire came within 200 yards of his home.

He credits the Granite Mountain Hot Shots for saving it, and his neighbors.

"These guys not only did they run the water line, they went to individual homes," says McLeod, "They cut back brush and trees."

So impressed by the firefighter's efforts, McLeod a volunteer with the Forrest Service sent the crew from Prescott a thank you letter two years ago.

And just two weeks ago, he ran into the team of hotshots in Sierra Vista.

"I was able to shake their hands and thank them for what they'd done," says McLeod, "They were just doing their jobs, is what they say, but it's so much more than that."

The loss of 19 firefighters is not only being felt by those in fire protection, says McLeod but by families whose homes they protected.

"I have no idea how to express what I feel, the gratitude for what they did. And the grief of the loss of such an outstanding group of young men," he said.

McLeod says folks who live in Carr Canyon are forever grateful for the firefighter's hard work and sacrifice.

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1 year ago

Remembering the Granite Mountain Hotshots

YARNELL - The Granite Mountain Hotshots comprised a group of men founded in 2002 to conquer and tame America's wildfires. They were the Jedis of the Forest Service. Agile ninjas who jumped the fire lines. The shining knight who halted the fiery beast.

Only one member of the Granite Moutain Hotshots survived the Yarnell Hill Fire's onslaught, surviving the tragedy of his 19 brothers.

It was the deadliest single day for U.S. firefighters since Sept. 11. Fourteen of the victims were in their 20s. Here are the stories of some of those who died:

Nineteen members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, based in Prescott, Ariz., were killed Sunday when a windblown wildfire overcame them north of Phoenix. It was the deadliest single day for U.S. firefighters since Sept. 11. Fourteen of the victims were in their 20s. Here are the stories of some of those who died:


For 21-year-old Kevin Woyjeck, the fire station was always a second home. His father, Capt. Joe Woyjeck, is a nearly 30-year veteran of the Los Angeles County Fire Department. Keith Mora, an inspector with that agency, said Kevin often accompanied his dad to the station and on ride-alongs, and always intended to follow in his footsteps.

"He wanted to become a firefighter like his dad and hopefully work hand-in-hand," Mora said Monday outside of the fire station in Seal Beach, Calif., where the Woyjeck family lives.

Mora remembered the younger Woyjeck as a "joy to be around," a man who always had a smile on his face. He had been trained as an EMT and worked as an Explorer, which is a mentorship training program to become a professional firefighter.

"He was a great kid. Unbelievable sense of humor, work ethic that was not parallel to many kids I've seen at that age. He wanted to work very hard."

As he spoke, Mora stood before an American flag that had been lowered to half-staff. His own fire badge was covered with a black elastic band, a show of respect and mourning for those lost in the line of duty.



An avid snowboarder, 30-year-old Chris MacKenzie grew up in California's San Jacinto Valley, where he was a 2001 graduate of Hemet High School and a former member of the town's fire department. He joined the U.S. Forest Service in 2004, then transferred two years ago to the Prescott Fire Department, longtime friend Dav Fulford-Brown told The Riverside Press-Enterprise.

MacKenzie, like at least one other member of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, had followed his father into firefighting. Michael MacKenzie, a former Moreno Valley Fire Department captain, confirmed that he had been informed of his son's death.

"I can't talk about it," he said.

Fulford-Brown, also a former firefighter, feared for the worst as soon as he heard the news of the Arizona firefighters. "I said, 'Oh my God, that's Chris' crew.' I started calling him and calling him and got no answer," he told The Press-Enterprise. MacKenzie, he said, "lived life to the fullest ... and was fighting fire just like his dad."

"He was finishing his credentials to get promoted and loved the people. It's an insane tragedy.



Billy Warneke, 25, and his wife, Roxanne, were expecting their first child in December, his grandmother, Nancy Warneke, told The Press-Enterprise newspaper in Riverside, Calif. Warneke grew up in Hemet, Calif., along with his fellow Granite Mountain hotshot, Chris MacKenzie. He was a four-year Marine Corps veteran who served a tour in Iraq and had joined the hotshot crew in April, buying a property in Prescott, near where his sister lived, the newspaper reported.

Nancy Warneke said she called Billy's sister after seeing the fire on the news.

"She said, 'He's gone. They're all gone,'" Nancy Warneke told The Press-Enterprise. "Even though it's a tragedy for the whole family, he was doing what he loved to do. He loved nature and was helping preserve nature."



Scott Norris, 28, was known around Prescott through his part-time job at Bucky O'Neill Guns.

"Here in Arizona the gun shops are a lot like barbershops. Sometimes you don't go in there to buy anything at all, you just go to talk," said resident William O'Hara. "I never heard a dirty word out of the guy. He was the kind of guy who if he dated your daughter, you'd be OK with it.

"He was just a model of a young, ideal American gentleman."

O'Hara's son Ryan, 19, said Norris' life and tragic death had inspired him to live a more meaningful life.

"He was a loving guy. He loved life. And I've been guilty of not looking as happy as I should, and letting things get to me, and Scott wasn't like that at all."



Prescott High School physical education teacher and coach Lou Beneitone taught many of the Hotshots, and remembered 29-year-old Andrew Ashcraft as a fitness-oriented student.

"He had some athletic ability in him and he was a go-getter, too. You could pretty much see, from young freshman all the way, he was going to be physically active."

Beneitone said athletic prowess was a must for the Hotshots. "That's what it takes. You gotta be very physically fit, and you gotta like it, gotta like the hard work."



Full of heart and determination, Clayton Whitted, 28, might not have been the biggest guy around, but he was among the hardest-working. His former Prescott High School coach, Lou Beneitone, said Whitted was a "wonderful kid" who always had a big smile on his face. Whitted played for the football team as an offensive and defensive lineman.

"He was a smart young man with a great personality, just a wonderful personality," said Beneitone. "When he walked into a room, he could really light it up."

Beneitone said Whitted loved being a firefighter and was well-respected among his crew. He says he ran into Whitted about two months ago and they shook hands and hugged, and talked about the upcoming fire season.

"I told him to be careful," Beneitone said.


- Anthony Rose, 23

Anthony Rose, 23, was one of the youngest victims. He grew up in Wisconsin and previously worked as a firefighter in nearby Crown King before moving on to become a Hotshot.

Retired Crown King firefighter Greg Flores said Rose "just blossomed in the fire department. He did so well and helped so much in Crown King. We were all so very proud of him."

Flores said the town was planning a fundraiser for Rose and hoped to also have a memorial to honor him.
"He was the kind of guy that his smile lit up the whole room and everyone would just rally around him," he said. "He loved what he was doing, and that brings me some peace of heart."

- Eric Marsh, 43
Eric Marsh, 43, was an avid mountain biker who grew up in Ashe County, N.C., but became hooked on firefighting while studying biology at Arizona State University, said Leanna Racquer, the ex-wife of his cousin.

Marsh lived with Racquer and her then-husband during the winters from 1992 through 1996 in North Carolina, but kept returning to Arizona during fire season.
After college, he kept working as a firefighter, eventually landing a full-time job and settling in northern Arizona.

He even moved his parents to the state, she said. Marsh was superintendent of the Hotshot crew and the oldest of the 19 who died.
"He's was great -- he was the best at what he did," Racquer said. "He is awesome and well-loved and they

- Robert Caldwell, 23

- Dustin Deford, 24

- Sean Misner, 26

- Garret Zuppiger, 27

- Travis Carter, 31

- Grant McKee, 21

- Travis Turbyfill, 27

- JesseSteed, 36

- Wade Parker, 22

- Joe Thurston, 32

- John Percin, 24

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