$559K fine set for safety failures in deadly Arizona wildfire

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An Arizona employee safety agency has ordered $559,000 in fines against the state's forestry division for its failures in handling the Yarnell Hill wildfire, which killed 19 elite firefighters from Prescott.

"The agency concluded that State Forestry placed a higher priority on protection of homes and property than firefighter safety," reports the Prescott Daily Courier.

The Arizona Industrial Commission imposed multiple fines on the forestry unit, with the largest coming for "willful serious" violations that left firefighters in dangerous positions after efforts to contain the fire proved ineffective.

Including the 19 members of the Granite Mountain Interagency Hotshot Crew who perished on June 30, a total of 81 firefighters were "unnecessarily and unreasonably" placed in perilous conditions, the commission found, leaving them vulnerable to smoke inhalation, burns, and death.

The forestry agency failed to remove firefighters even after they learned that "suppression of extremely active chaparral fuels was ineffective and that wind would push active fire towards non-defensible structures," the report says.

Other violations centered on uneven staffing, as a supervisor, a safety officer, and a planning chief were found to have been either late or absent on the day the firefighters died, according to the report.

As The Daily Courier notes, Arizona Forestry officials "failed to remove downwind firefighters when incident commanders evacuated their own post at 3:30 p.m. on June 30."

The Industrial Commission's conclusions clash with the findings of an extensive report by the Arizona State Forestry Division, which said in September that its investigation "found no indication of negligence, reckless actions, or violations of policy or protocol."

The main problems identified in the forestry agency's report centered on breakdowns in communications during the fire.

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