PHOENIX - We are learning just how things transpired that may have led to the deaths of 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots in June.
Here's the timeline:
On June 28, lightning strikes. Crews check on the fire and decide to fight the fire the next day citing no vehicle access and the low risk threat level to homes or people and safety concerns.
That Saturday, they started to attack by air, securing all four sides of the fire.
The air tankers were released but requested again later in the afternoon when the winds picked up.
An order of an air tanker was denied because of flight safety concerns, but a second tanker was offered by the Southwest Regional Command center in Albuquerque. Incident command over the Yarnell Hill Fire turned down their offer.
That same day, incident command requested two safety officers for the next day, June 30. A safety officer's sole purpose on a wildfire would be to focus on firefighter safety. For some reason, the Arizona Dispatch Center, operated by the Arizona State Forestry Division, never processed that request.
The incident command teams resubmitted their demands for safety officers on site. Officers didn't arrive until the late afternoon.
On June 30, firefighters on the ground and incident command recognized their tactics weren't working to stop the flames. The vegetation was feeding the fire. Winds weren't helping. The fire was so strong even the retardant that was dropped wasn't stopping the fire. Granite Mountain Hotshots' own chief, Darrell Willis, commented that the flames would burn right through the retardant line.
In addition, incident command knew the homes the hotshots were protecting were undefendable and would survive the fire.
At 3:30 p.m. the winds change direction. Incident Command evacuated themselves, but never told the Granite Mountain Hotshots to get out.
Just 30 minutes before they died, the aerial tanker, flown by Rory Collins, abruptly left the scene. He had been assisting the hotshots all day. He didn't give the second aerial tanker any information on their location. So when the Granite Mountain Hotshots called for last minute backup prior to getting overrun by flames, the air tanker couldn't find them.
Investigators struggled for answers because the U.S. Forest Service denied their request to interview the Blue Ridge Hot Shots who were in communication with the Granite Mountain Hotshots all day.
Rory Collins didn't return phone calls Arizona Department of Occupational Safety and Health investigators made requesting an interview. So to this day, they haven't talked to him.
Families are hoping litigation will force people who are being told to keep quiet to speak the truth so they can have closure.