Firefighters Contain Deadly Yarnell Hill Wildfire

By Jillian MacMath, AccuWeather.com Staff Writer
July 13, 2013; 6:03 PM
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An honor guard presents families with an American flag during a memorial service at Tim's Toyota Center in Prescott Valley, Ariz., Tuesday, July 9, 2013, for the 19 Granite Mountain hotshot firefighters that were killed on June 30, while battling the Yarnell Hill Fire. (AP Photo/The Arizona Republic, David Kadlubowski, Pool)

The deadly Yarnell Hill wildfire that killed 19 members of the elite 20-person Granite Mountain hotshot firefighting squad on Sunday, June 30, has been 100 percent contained as of July 11.

The blaze, which ignited on June 28, began as a relatively small fire but spread rapidly two days later when winds quickly changed direction and speed.

On Monday, July 1, the day after the tragedy, National Weather Service Incident Meteorologist (NWS IMET) Jim Wallmann was called upon to deploy to Prescott, Ariz., to assist in forecasting for the Yarnell wildfire.

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IMETS are trained meteorologists who respond to requests for specialized forecasting during a disaster.

Prior to June 30, an IMET was not called on scene, however the NWS Flagstaff office had issued a spot forecast Sunday morning and made calls to the incident about convection.

According to IMET and National Fire Weather Operations Coordinator for the NWS in Boise, Idaho, Larry Van Bussum, there are 85 incident meteorologists with the NWS that are certified to provide weather information to help ensure the safety of responders.

Most are forecasters on a daily basis, but have volunteered to go through 250 hours of specialized training and certification to become qualified IMETS.

In wildfires, for example, they will monitor wind directions and movement of a fire to provide advanced warning to staff on the ground to move to safety when needed. They also track conditions to help management crews make tactical decisions about their strategies.

The NWS IMETS provide services when they are called upon; they do not make the decision to deploy themselves.

Had deployment been requested sooner, or had the event been labeled a "Type 1 Incident," an IMET, could have been sent to the scene by the NWS to assist with forecasting before the tragedy occurred.

"Had we have been there [Sunday], maybe we would have had a better outcome," acting National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) administrator Kathryn Sullivan said in a press conference in Maryland.

Since 1928, the NWS has been working with the Wildland Fire Agencies and has never turned down a request for service, Van Bussum said.

For several days, Wallmann coordinated daily with NWS Flagstaff and the Southwest Area Coordination Center meteorologist providing specialized forecasting information for the firefighters and emergency personnel on scene.

Wallmann declined to comment on whether the tragedy could have been prevented, but told AccuWeather on July 5, "My focus is on the safety of the firefighters and emergency personnel that are fighting the fire now."

No additional lives were lost after June 30.

Ultimately, the Yarnell Hill wildfire consumed more than 8,300 acres, destroyed 114 structures and took the lives of more firefighters than any other in 80 years.

While the fire itself is no longer actively burning, some areas continue to smolder.

Content contributed by AccuWeather.com Staff Writer Samantha-Rae Tuthill.

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