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What Are the Known Fatal Yarnell Hill Fire Weather Factors? Pt.1

Restating the post title beyond the limited Wix title allowance: What Are The Known Fatal Yarnell Hill Fire Weather Factors Explaining What Led Up To The June 30, 2013, GMHS Fatalities? Part 1


Views expressed to "the public at large” and "of public concern"

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The authors and the blog are not responsible for misuse, reuse, recycled and cited and/or uncited copies of content within this blog by others. The content even though we are presenting it public if being reused must get written permission in doing so due to copyrighted material. Thank you.

Abbreviations used: Wildland Firefighters (WFs) - Firefighters (FFs).


"Fire and hail, snow and mist, stormy wind fulfilling his word!" Psalm 48:8 (NKJV)

"The National Wildfire Coordinating Group (NWCG) Fire Weather Subcommittee (FWSC) provides national leadership in wildland fire weather and climatology in support of effective fire management decision-making".


This is a fairly comprehensive post for all you Wildland Fire Weather Nerds (and prospective Wildland Fire Weather Nerds) that will examine the wildland fire weather that ensued on the June 30, 2013, Yarnell Hill Fire (posted more-or-less in chronological order based on publication dates) from the perspectives of and research of several of the professionally recognized prominent meteorologists and meteorology forums, e.g. University of Wisconsin-Madison CIMMS (2013), Cliff Mass Weather Blog (2013), Wasatch Weather Weenies (2013), Arizona Republic Pulitzer Prize winner (2014), and Prescott, AZ Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) Dr, Michael Kaplan, et al (2021); Ising et al (2022); NOAA Storm Prediction Center (SPC) Fire Weather Outlook archives, NOAA GIBBS satellite Water Vapor Imagery (WVI) archives; and wildland fire weather videos and tutorials.

Images from the Univ. of WI-CIMMS, Cliff Mass Blog, and Wasatch Weather Weenies will not include figure numbers or captions as they are embedded within the images.

Regarding human factors, it is generally accepted and recognized that the GMHS fatalities occurred because of several possible "Friendly Fire" and firing operations in and along the Sesame Street and Shrine Corridor, the Boulder Springs Ranch (BSR), and the spur roads heading into Peeples Valley and Yarnell.

Credible Evidence Continues to Surface Regarding a Likely "Friendly Fire" Incident Along the Sesame Street and Shrine Corridor Area on June 30, 2013 ( )

It Could Not Be Seen Because It Could Not Be Believed on June 30, 2013

( )

The Yarnell Hill Fire: A review of lessons learned McCrea (June 2014) International Association of Wildland Fire (IAWF)

Behind the weather that led to the deadly Yarnell Hill Fire

( )

Formerly Unrevealed Public Records Should Change the Account of What Occurred on June 30, 2013 ( 10.1007/978-3-030-20037-4_3 )


Figure 1. Snippet of Ising, Kaplan, and Lin (2022) Figure 6. indicating original sources and observed reflectivity mosaic from KFLX (Flagstaff, AZ, USA) 30 June 2013: (a) 1315, (b) 1340, (c) 1400, (d) 1500, (e) 1515, and (f) 1645 MST (source: NCEI GIS Map Portal). The red circle in (a) denotes a small cell that had developed west of Cherry, AZ, USA, and North of Dewey, AZ, USA, around 1315 MST (source: NCEI GIS Map Portal) Source: Ising, Kaplan, and Lin (2022)

But first the basics. Because this post concerns wildland fire weather, it is prudent to begin with the recognized Rules of Engagement ("10 & 18") for Entrapment Avoidance that specifically relates to fire weather for those WF, FF, as well as non-WF and FF readers alike.

The first Fire Order states 1. Keep informed on fire weather conditions and forecasts.

The Watch Out Situations as guidelines dealing specifically with fire weather state:

4. Unfamiliar with weather and local factors influencing fire behavior.

14. Weather becoming hotter and drier.

15. Wind increases and/or changes direction.

Because Fire Weather determines fire behavior, in reality, from a wildland firefighter perspective, it is safe to say that all of the other Watch Out Situations are affected in one way or another by fire weather during firefighting and aircraft operations. Yes, even taking a nap near the fireline.

This is an NWCG Fire Weather Subcommittee Glossary of Terms that may be useful throughout this post.

This author strongly advocates first becoming Students of Weather and then becoming Students of Fire as Paul Gleason (RiP) advocated because we should know that it is the weather that determines fire behavior.

Figure 2. Snippet of Paul Gleason Student of Fire quote Source: WLF LLC (6/10/22)


"He answered and said to them, 'When it is evening you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red’; and in the morning, ‘It will be foul weather today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ Hypocrites! You know how to discern the face of the sky, but you cannot discern the signs of the times." Matthew 16:2-3 (NKJV)

Here is a link to numerous Bible verses concerning the weather. (


"The [NWCG] Fire Environment Committee (FENC) provides national leadership in measuring and predicting the wildland fire environment. The FENC develops, disseminates, and promotes national standards for fire behavior prediction, fire danger rating, and fire weather forecasting."

"Following a December 2006 presentation to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Science Advisory Board (SAB), the SAB established a Fire Weather Research Working Group (FWRWG) and charged it with conducting a review of NOAA’s operationally-oriented fire weather research activities. Specifically, the FWRWG was chartered to (1) ensure NOAA’s fire weather research priorities meet the needs of the federal wildland management agencies, and (2) explore opportunities to leverage current NOAA internal and external collaborative fire weather research efforts to ensure improvements to NOAA’s fire weather products and services are implemented in a timely manner. FWRWG members were

26 academics, researchers, and operational users of, and private-sector contributors to, NOAA’s fire weather information."

"Fire Weather -"The fire weather program is managed and coordinated by the WFM Fuels Management Section, which has one staff member designated as the national fire weather program manager. This program provides funding and technical support for the maintenance of station sensors and the accuracy of station data for the wildland fire program.

All field-level units will identify at least one permanent, NFDRS fire weather station for fire planning purposes. A listing of these designated weather stations is maintained by the WFM Fuels Management staff and is updated annually. Each Region must identify a Regional Point of Contact (RPOC), and each Agency/Tribe must identify a Local Point of Contact (LPOC) for fire weather and weather stations." NIFC Interagency Red Book

Wind extinguishes a candle and energizes fire. ... You want to be the fire and wish for the wind. ..." Black Swan author Nassim Taleb, from Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder


What follows is from the University of Wisconsin-Madison Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies (CIMSS) Satellite Blog for the "Yarnell Hill Fire in Arizona" on June 30, 2013, by Scott Bachmeier. This is an excellent post with several interactive animated videos of satellite imagery. Screenshots and text will be provided below to accompany the text and to pique your interest to watch the informative video clips from the relevant CIMSS link. The relevant image Screenshots include the original captions.

"The Yarnell Hill Fire (InciWeb) was a relatively small wildfire that was started by lightning from a dry thunderstorm southwest of Prescott, Arizona on 28 June 2013. However, fire conditions became more favorable for growth on 30 June, as surface air temperatures rose above 100 F across the area with low relative humidity values. During the afternoon hours, GOES-15 0.63 µm visible channel images (above; click image to play animation; also available as a QuickTime movie) showed that a line of thunderstorms developed over northwestern Arizona, and moved toward the southwest (the red circle highlights the general area of the Yarnell fire). It is likely that strong surface winds associated with a thunderstorm outflow boundary (nearby surface mesonet data) caused rapid growth and an abrupt change in direction of the fire, which tragically killed 19 firefighters who attempted to shelter in place (for additional details, see the Wildfire Today site).

"On the GOES-15 visible imagery, a smoke plume became more obvious after 16:45 UTC, with the first formation of pyrocumulus clouds evident at 21:00 and 21:30 UTC. As the cloud shield of the thunderstorm line moved over the fire, the images revealed the development of a pyrocumulonimbus (pyroCb) cloud which exhibited a pronounced overshooting top at 23:45 UTC."

"Taking a look at the period of pyroCb formation, the overshooting plume and pronounced overshooting top could be seen spreading southward (due to northerly winds aloft, as shown on Flagstaff AZ rawinsonde data) on the GOES-15 0.63 µm visible images (above) — and this pyroCb plume and overshooting top appeared warmer/darker on GOES-15 3.9 µm shortwave IR images (below), which indicated that the plume was comprised of smaller particles which were more efficient reflectors of solar radiation."

"On GOES-15 10.7 µm longwave IR images (below), the coldest cloud top IR brightness temperature of -65 C (darker red color enhancement) was associated with the overshooting top at 23:45 UTC."

"Shown below is a comparison of the 23:45 UTC images of GOES-15 visible, shortwave IR, and longwave IR images."

"A comparison of Suomi NPP 0.64 µm visible channel and 11.45 µm IR channel images at 21:22 UTC (below) showed the Yarnell fire 'hot spot'. (dark black pixels), with some pyrocumulus clouds beginning to form to the east/northeast of the fire source (due to strong southwesterly winds in the boundary layer)."

"The corresponding Suomi NPP VIIRS true-color image is shown below, visualized using the SSEC Web Map Server. Again, the smoke plume from the fire can be seen, along with the development of pyrocumulus clouds to the east/northeast."

"Volumetric displays of Flagstaff, Arizona WSR-88D radar base reflectivity and spectrum width are shown above and below, respectively (radar data visualized using GR2Analyst software, courtesy of Jordan Gerth, CIMSS). The viewing perspective is looking from the northwest, so Prescott is located in the left corner of the data cube, and the Yarnell fire with its growing pyrocumulus (pyroCu) and pyrocumulonimbus (pyroCb) cloud is located in the right corner of the data cube."

"The blue-shaded isosurface of the 13.5 dBZ base reflectivity (from 22:42 to 23:48 UTC) showed the upward pulsing of the pyroCu and finally the pyroCb, which grew upward past an altitude of 40,000 feet on the final image (23:48 UTC, about the time that the prominent overshooting top was seen on the 23:45 UTC GOES-15 visible image)."

"The Doppler radar spectrum width is shown from 23:34 to 23:48 UTC. This parameter represents the amount of variance in the velocity field. Note the higher spectrum width values (darker orange shading) associated with the growth of the pyroCb cloud over the Yarnell fire — this was likely a result of the variety of particles (biomass burning particles, supercooled water droplets, ice crystals) moving upward at different velocities because of their differing size and shape characteristics."

All the above are Snippets of the CIMSS website animations. You will have to go to the main CIMSS link and then the animation links to watch them

This CIMSS post had only one accurate and very insightful comment by Jeff, including stating that this "was clearly predictable and preventable" and that several of the Watch Out Situations "applied" instead of the usually erroneously stated as "violations of the Watch Outs" on 13 July 2013 at 1:37. It's impossible to actually "violate a Watch Out", right? How do you violate "the weather is getting hotter and drier?

"Good information and good work.

This tragic event was clearly predictable and preventable once we focus on the wildland firefighting rules.

Several of the Common Denominators to tragedy fires were in place: (1) light, flashy fuels, (2) isolated sectors of large fires, (3) in or adjacent to chimneys, chutes, or bowls, and (4) unexpected shifts in wind direction or wind speed.

The primary Ten Standard Fire Orders relevant were: (1) Keep informed on fire weather conditions and forecasts, (2) Know what your fire is doing at all times, and (3) Base all actions on current and expected fire behavior.

Several of the 18 Situations that shout Watch Out applied: (11) Unburned fuel between you and the fire, (14) Winds increases and/or changes direction, and (17) Terrain and fuels make travel to safety difficult.

Several of the Look Up, Down, and Around fire environmental factors and indicators applied listed in the Incident Response Pocket Guide on pages 2-3.

Hopefully, this will help to prevent further tragedies. May God be with the families, friends, loved ones, and those firefighters also involved."


Consider now the accurate and insightful July 2, 2013, Cliff Mass Weather Blog titled: The Yarnell Hill Fire: The Meteorological Origins "This morning I took a look at the meteorology associated with the Yarnell Hill fire in Arizona on Sunday, and the more I dug into it, the more disturbed I got. You will see why as I explain." "From what I can glean from news reports, the fire blew up around 4-5 PM Sunday (June 30th). A nearby observation site (RAWS station) was located about 5 miles away. The observations, shown below, indicates a profound wind shift from south to north around 5 PM associated with a sudden increase of wind gusts to just over 40 mph. Solar radiation dropped rapidly at the same time, indicating a sudden increase in cloudiness."

"The origin of this sudden increase in wind is clear: outflow from a line of convection (thunderstorms) that had developed during the preceding hours and which was moving to the southwest. Here are some satellite images for the hours preceding and during the terrible accident (the circle indicates the location of the fire). First image (20 UTC, 1 PM MDT, no daylight savings time there) shows the convective line to the northeast."

"By 2230 UTC (3:30 PM MST) the convective line was approaching the fire and clouds had spread over the location."

"A little over an hour later (2345 UTC) one can clearly see the development of a cumulus tower directly over the fire. This is call[ed] pyrocumulus. The heat from the fire can cause a tall cumulus cloud to form directly over the fire."

"The Flagstaff National Weather Service radar clearly showed the approaching convection. Here is the radar at 2:58 PM. You can see the arc of red/yellow/green colors approaching the fire from the NE."

"There is often an outflow of cooler air moving away from convection...the leading edge is known as a gust front (see figure below). Downdraft air from thunderstorms spread out as it hits the surface, producing strong winds. It appears that there was such strong outflow from this convection that caused the ..."

"... winds to shift rapidly from southerly to northerly and to increase suddenly in speed (to 43 mph at the nearby station). The vertical sounding at Flagstaff, Arizona at 0000 UTC July 1 (5 PM on Sunday) showed the potential for strong, downdraft winds, with a moist layer at midlevels (the temperature and dew point close together between 650 and 300 hPa) and dry air (big separation between temperature and dew point) near the surface (see graphic). As rain falls into dry air, there is strong evaporation and cooling, that produces negatively buoyant (descending) air parcels that accelerate towards the surface. When they hit the surface they spread out, producing intense horizontal winds."

"A measure of the potential for strong downdrafts and gust fronts is something called downdraft convective available potential energy (DCAPE). The sounding at Flagstaff has values of around 1600 J per Kg, which is very high (anything above 1000 can produce strong downdrafts). "The existence of the strong convective outflow winds is confirmed by an amazing video of the area from 4 to 4:20 PM (click on image to view, cam viewing north). You will see strong winds picking up, an explosion of the fire, and then smoke pushing down towards the cam. You can see a fire line explode along the crest."

This is a Snippet of the Matt Oss Vimeo video of June 30, 2013, intense fire behavior taken from Congress, AZ (see below)

"So it is apparent what occurred ..first the winds were from the south, followed by a rapid shift of 180 degrees, sudden increase of winds to over 40 mph, and the fire blew up and reversed direction."

Figure 3. June 30, 2013, Yarnell Hill Wildfire Time Lapse. Source: Matt Oss, Vimeo

This time-lapse video clearly reveals the explosive fire behavior leading up to and including the GMHS entrapment, burnover, and fatalities that occurred during this 1630 (4;30 PM) to 1650 (4;50 PM) timeframe. This is a stunning video.


“But God has not walked away from the day-to-day control of His creation. Certainly, He has established physical laws by which He governs the forces of nature, but those laws continuously operate according to His sovereign will. A Christian TV meteorologist has determined that there are over 1,400 references to weather terminology in the Bible. Many of these references attribute the outworking of weather directly to the hand of God.” (Trusting God: Even When Life Hurts - Jerry Bridges)


"Better de-flickered version - Wildfire. Viewed from the south off of highway 89, the flames reach the peak of the mountain. Created by Matt Oss Twitter - mattoss21 -Better de-flickered version - Edit - 4:30 PM is when the video starts and ends at 4:50 PM"

From Matt Oss - the Vimeo version - Yarnell Hill Fire from Congress, AZ: A time-lapse shot on 6/30/13 at 4:30 PM of the Yarnell Hill Wildfire. Viewed from the south off of highway 89, the flames reach the peak of the mountain. Created by Matt Oss - Gallery of my photos from 6/30/13 -

( ) Twitter - @mattoss21 "John, looking back I would say I was looking directly north maybe 5 - 10 degrees to the east. This gives a great summary in the animation near the bottom. ( )" This NYT link requires a subscription to access the article.


"The forecast for 4 PM shows the winds reaching the fire site."

"The University of Arizona WRF forecasting system also indicated the potential for strong convection-related winds. (see graphic, click to expand)"

"You can see why I find this disaster so unsettling. Hours before the incident it was clear there was a real threat...satellite and radar showed developing convection to the north that was moving south towards the fire. High-resolution numerical models showed a threat. Were there any meteorologists working the fire? If not, why not? This terrible tragedy needs to be reviewed carefully."

"A number of media outlets called the strong winds unpredictable and random. This is not correct, as shown by the information I provided above."


Please take the time to read through these various comments from a medley of posters as many of them are very well thought out and fairly well articulated with valid points of contention and questions. And, of course, there are others far afield of that as you'll readily notice. All emphasis, including font changes, and hyperlinks is added below unless otherwise noted.


UnknownJuly 2, 2013 at 12:42 PM I think asking "Why not?" is definitely the right question. And if the proper resources were assisting with the fire, did they raise an alarm? And was it ignored?

It's hard to see something like this happen and see that it was so completely preventable if the proper resources had been applied.


[An author comment is necessary here with a relevant explanatory excerpt from a 2018 AHFE paper titled: "Epic Human Failure on June 30, 2013." -- "Thus, the GMHS would primarily “see” the weather and fire behavior that they were focused on, however, their own brains may have sabotaged or delayed their ability to perceive and react to threats from those recognized hazards or even from the focus they were directing their attention to, typical of all humans engaged in this type of encounter [17] [see 17. Shomstein, S., Yantis, S.: Control of attention shifts between vision and audition in human cortex. J. Neurosci.24, 10702–10706 (2004)]. Numerous cell phone and radio conversations occurred during the YH Fire, likely distracting them from truly ‘seeing’ the emerging weather and fire behavior hazards and reevaluating priorities contributing to their steady drift into failure [11, 17]. The firefighters were aware of the forecast weather that morning; the risk factor was high enough to make them think twice, but they deferred to their own judgment, unknowingly falling victim to distractions. The weather forecast warned of considerable thunderstorm outflow wind danger, but the GMHS seemingly discounted those warnings, and left their Safety Zone at the worst possible time [7]. Arizona is well known for its dynamic, sometimes tragic large fires; late June is considered extremely hazardous, i.e. the Dude Fire (1990) when 6 WFF died, where severe outflow winds also set the stage for potential deathtraps, and where harsh Human Failure also won out.]


Thanks for the research on this! Tim Vashon

July 2, 2013 at 3:11 PM

Great report Cliff, the best I have read yet. I was involved in the formation of Prescott's very first hotshot crew back in the early 70's. It started out as a Type II crew then became a Type 1 hotshot crew in 1973 -all under the USFS. It was mainly composed of college students that were active rock climbers, mountaineers and environmentalists. It was co-ed, it fought fires safely all over the West, including that big one in Twisp years ago, it even did some helitac work although it was not a helitac team per se. The Granite Mountain Hotshots started in 2002 under the City of Prescott Fire Department, it was an inter-agency team. [The author notes a clarification here that they were a city of Prescott FD Fuels Crew (Crew 7) and finally became an Interagency as stated in 2009] One thing that is driving me crazy about the way the media is reporting this is exactly what you point out - that somehow the weather was all a big surprise. What people do not seem to realize is that the fire itself creates its own dynamics, this is well known and should be anticipated. Planning an attack on a wildfire starts out with a series of "IF" questions, the biggest of which is: "What IF what we think turns out to be wrong? If we go to position X, what do we do if the winds reverse or change? What do we do if things go to hell?"


"Over the years, a series of rules and methods have been developed that account for

even the most extreme conditions. It is a well known pattern of tragedies that no single decision is the cause, it is a series of mistakes, miscalculations and misjudgements taken together that are the problem. This time it will be no different. Losing an entire hotshot crew means some bad thing happened at the response co-ordination level, weather communications being just one."


Hank Roberts July 2, 2013 at 5:46 PM

Meteorologist was available, but has to be -- and was not -- requested by the fire manager, per this: ("rnell-hill-fire-16179)

[An author comment is necessary here. Hank Roberts is correct, however, the author notes a clarification here. However, the link he provides states: "The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has sent an incident meteorologist, known as an IMET, to be embedded with the Yarnell HIll (sic) firefighting teams." That may have been the case for the incoming Type One and Two IMTs ordered later in the day June 30, 2013, but not the original Type 4 IMT.]

(posted by dbostrom here)

Renton Rebel July 2, 2013 at 7:24 PM

"Were there any meteorologists working the fire? If not, why not?" Cliff, you do understand that the fire occurred in Arizona and that the state government there is dominated by one political party whose emphasis has been tax cuts vice public service, right? And you are aware the federal budget cuts often called "sequestration" chopped 5 percent from the U.S. Forest Service's Fire and Aviation Management Budget in fiscal 2013, right? The answer to your question is "free market solutions". Hindu July 2, 2013 at 9:10 PM wonderful analysis

stillstanding July 2, 2013 at 9:38 PM

This is a very interesting read. Thank you for your research and post. Hopefully this information,along with your questions,will change the protocol for dealing with these fires.

Tim Vashon July 2, 2013 at 10:10 PM

Here is the url to the National Interagency Fire Center website, and "the rules" -the "10 Standard Fire Orders and 18 Watch Out Situations"-if anyone is interested. ( [This link is inaccuarate] The media has language like "Prescott has one of the 110 hotshot crews" -or some such. Actually, Prescott has 2 hotshot crews, the The Prescott Hotshots which has been a part of the US Forest Service since 1972, and the team that was lost, the Granite Mountain Hotshots which is part of the Prescott Fire Department since 2002. Both are part of the National Interagency Hotshots under NICC coordination. [The author notes a clarification here - the GMHS was initially ordered by the AZ State Forestry through the SW Coordination Center (SWCC). SWCC would then cancel the order and the AZ State Forestry and/or the Prescott FD reordered the GMHS by and email and/or phone call. The GMHS had been told that they were "Unavailable."]

Unknown July 3, 2013 at 6:24 AM

Cliff, Great analysis. The 2013 Wildfire Safety refresher had two modules where they talked about the weather ( Tim, Excellent link and also this one ( Both of these lists are printed on the Fireline Handbook. The class room portion of the S-130/S-190 Wildfire Fire Fighter training are on-line. (current "red card")

BTC July 3, 2013 at 6:37 AM

Thank you for this insightful research. I hope it might help prevent the tragic loss of such brave men. We are likely to see more of this type of events unless more rigor is applied Scott Bachmeier July 3, 2013 at 7:54 AM

Animations of the GOES visible images (along with a few other satellite image examples) are availabel (sic) on the CIMSS Satellite Blog: (

a progressive crank July 3, 2013 at 9:01 AM

BoingBoing posted a link to a piece on climatewire that looked into this. It seems there were some meteorological staff in the mix but not enough, not in time, etc. It looks like the climax of this came at a shift change or other hiccup in staff awareness. But as you say, there were some predictable elements to this.


[The author notes a clarification here - the commenter above mentioned a "Climate Wire" article. This quote is from a reprinted article. "Not to be overly speculative, but typically, we would have our IMET embedded with the kind of hotshot crew that was overrun by fire on Sunday," she said. "That kind of extremely rapid wind shift that turned the fire against them, that's just the kind of impending hazard, rapid, fast-moving hazard, that the IMETs try to protect the firefighters from." The GMHS had the best view of anyone on the entire YH Fire and the fire weather and fire behavior, along with Air Attack and the Two Eyewitness Hikers (Collura and Gilligan). This author notes that the GMHS had all the Fire Orders at their beck and call and to know and follow them; and all the Watch Out Situations to know, recognize, and mitigate. However, this author alleges that they had a known, recognized habit of Bad Decisions With Good Outcomes. Therefore, an IMET's warning of "an impending hazard, rapid, fast-moving hazard" would have been, and was in fact ignored by them on several previous wildfires, namely the 2012 Holloway Fire in NV and OR that they referred to as "the Nevada Fire" instead of having "protected them." These are validated in numerous AHFE papers, YHFR posts, and during an S-131 Advanced FF, Squad Boss course at an Arizona Wildland Fire Academy by a former GMHS (2011-2013) that was on the 2012 Holloway Fire as being factual.]


Lori July 3, 2013 at 9:06 AM

Maybe its easier for the managers in this situation to believe it was all random and unpredictable. Otherwise how do you justify the loss of so many young, wonderful people.


I believe the hot shot comand (sic) should have known weather would be unstable by looking up at the large structured cumulus clouds


Wannabe AZ weather guy July 3, 2013 at 9:45 AM

The storm wind change was no suprise at this time of year. Speaking as a layman who grew up close to Prescott and follows Arizona meteorology closely, what we saw was like clockwork for the unstable winds to change direction from N to S. During this monsoon season, storms began after that 60° dew point mark over AZ. thick forest after a strong bar(s) of High fronts. Every H storm front in July will fall south from the mogollon rim that is a 1000 to 2500 foot drop for aprox 500 miles in length. That storm begans a cold mass and falls fastly toward the heat, which naturally moves S. Swarming cool weather down towards Prescott area almost every day at this time of year. Of course sometime variates in strength about 48 hours by the rise of dew point as energy builds again. So, Prescott valley had the fire blazing (hot air) and the mogollon rim had a Large cold mass falling quickly as expected but with the fire winds are going to change to the S. right away. The wind may shift any direction with the fire and the cold mass ,although a local would expect to see the winds go more south with normal June temps. I believe the hot shot comand (sic) should have known weather would be unstable by looking up at the large structured cumulus clouds push that Cold Air mass that naturally falls towards the heat below 1500 feet. Again, locals expect this storm, and the Yarnell hill fire exaserbates (sic) moisture towards heat and every local would tell you there would be strong winds and maybe rain coming an hour ahead of the front moving S. That fire had a bullseye on it expecting S to SW winds to blow with verga (sic) rain or rain with extreme hail, with the fire that was unlikely to see rain or hail, but strong winds and unstable rain at about 1500 to 1800 hours (mst) will very likely be seen.

WXMAN42 July 3, 2013 at 9:59 AM

"Were there any meteorologists working the fire? If not, why not?" Hi Cliff, decent analysis but the above question needs clarification especially in light of the way off the mark and misguided comment from RentonRebel. Hank Roberts was on the right track. An IMET (Incident Meteorologist) is generally ordered when a Type 1 or 2 fire fighting team is ordered to manage a fire. These teams are ordered when the fire has reached a certain complexity level that requires the greater resources these management teams offer over the local fire departments, Forests, etc. Once a Type 1 or 2 management team is ordered, the team decides if an IMET is needed and ordered up if so. Until then, the firefighting team works with the local NWS office to get the needed weather information. This is done through Spot forecast requests and briefings done over the phone. So, weather support is there from the beginning via the local NWS office or a NWS IMET when one is ordered.


Weather support was ongoing with this fire as well and we will all learn the details of this tragic incident once the investigation team (now assembled) finishes its analysis.


[An author comment is necessary here for the above "investigation team" comment. All the fatality fire alleged “investigations” are based on them first establishing a “conclusion” and then getting the alleged “facts” to support it. In other words, they can write anything they want.]

One thing the fire fighting does very well (beside fighting the fires!) is to learn from these types of incidents to try to prevent future injuries or worse. From someone having been on the ground, one thing that everyone needs to be aware of is this is a VERY dangerous job and that fact that there aren't more "incidents" with the extreme fire behavior we have is a testament to the skills of the fire fighters and the excellent safety procedures already in place.

[An author comment is necessary here for the above "One thing the fire fighting does very well (beside fighting the fires!) is to learn from these types of incidents to try to prevent future injuries or worse." Unfortunately, this is incorrect because of the fact that we are learning" "incomplete lessons" based on my comment above about the alleged "investigations." We will never be able to prevent all wildland fire fatalities, so all we can do is our best to reduce them.]

buzzbernard July 3, 2013 at 11:22 AM

Along similar lines, my thoughts on the recent wildfire and tornado disasters: ( [No longer available even with the Wayback Machine]


(Didn't we learn anything from

Mann Gulch and Storm King Mountain?)


awaketoitall July 3, 2013 at 2:01 PM

This exact wind phenomenon happened yesterday here in Cottonwood... saw the roll cloud form just like the image. I thought an F-0 tornado was forming. Was a really scary event. Trees looked as if they were going to snap. Winds were probably 40mph. Very accurate analysis, man. My sympathy for the fallen and their families. I shed tears for them. Reply

RentonRebelJuly 3, 2013 at 3:29 PM @ WXMAN42, You did not explain why you thought my comment was misguided. Maybe it was just a misunderstanding. What we knew before the fire was: a) The frequency and severity of fires has increased by almost 50% since 2000 b) The federal and state budgets have not nearly kept pace with this increase with the amount of resources required to fight these fires and keep the population, property and Fire Fighters prepared and safe. c) The sequestration which resulted from the Republican party's policy to o longer authorize the payment of the debt it voted to incur has impacted the U.S. Forest Service’s Fire and Aviation Management Budget in fiscal 2013 with 5% chopped out. d) As Cliff meticulously pointed out, the technology existed to prevent the deadly "surprise" on the Fire Fighters. I agree that lessons can and will be learned from this disaster. My point is that we need not wait for death to learn lessons. Meteorological research and resources are a public good which MUST be financed by the public it supports. Yes, the process exists where if requested an IMET is assigned. It was not requested in this case. The ability to assist fire fighters in fires large AND small exists without dependency upon special requests. This ability is specifically not employed because of political budget constraints. The policy to wait until death necessitates change processes is a political budget decision, one which is demanded by one specific political party and ineffectively repudiated by the other.

RentonRebelJuly 3, 2013 at 3:54 PM @ Adding a citation here to buttress my point. Re CBS News about the House Republican budget authored by Paul Ryan, GOP VP nominee 2012 - March 11, 2011, 4:17 PM ( The budget, which proposed about $60 billion in budget cuts, would slash funding for the National Weather Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The Republican's (sic) proposed "continuing resolution" to fund the government, which was defeated in the Senate this week, aimed to cut $1.2 billion - or 21 percent - of [PBO's] proposed budget for NOAA, reports.


Thank you for your analysis Dr. Mass. I am an NWS Incident Meteorologist based in Anchorage, AK, and have been serving on wildfire and other incidents since 1990, throughout the US and Australia. The reason there was no Incident Meteorologist at the Yarnell Hill fire when it blew up was that it was still a "Type 2" or "Type 3" fire, not large or complex enough for the "Type 1" rating at that point to require a larger Incident Management Team. Who almost always will request an Incident Meteorologist. No matter what we do as well, as Incident Meteorologists, there are some realities to face. For instance, while serving as an IMET on a fire near Stanley, ID in 2006 I forecast isolated dry thunderstorms to occur in the afternoon around the fire area. The region around Stanley is outside of WSR-88D radar coverage from either Boise or Pocatello. All I had to go on for my weather watching was lightning detection and satellite. At 4 pm that day (9/02/2006) isolated thunderstorms developed over one of the fires in the complex, and a strong downburst wind pushed the fire toward 34 crewmembers. I was not able to warn for this, lightning detection just showed 1-2 strikes after the fact some miles away. The fire was 20 miles from camp where I was stationed, and not even visible from it. Yet all 34 firefighters were able to run through their pre-defined escape route to their safety zone, and made it. They were out of radio contact with our base for 90 minutes while this was occurring! You can bet we all were petrified at that time. So it is the training and quick action of the firefighters following their standard orders, in addition to our weather support, that keeps everyone safe. Thank you, Michael Richmond

AnonymousJuly 4, 2013 at 8:26 AM

High Base Thunderstorm rolled in (as predicted in morning fire weather discussion) blew the fire in all directions, and brought Mother Nature her tragedy. It's as simple as that. As Michael said you can't have IMETS on every fire. But you can utilise the local office for spot fire weather forecast and the like. There are a couple of things bothering me at this time. Live and dead fuel moistures at the time of the event were at historic lows. Fuel loading was at historic highs. As Malcolm Gladwell would say; "this is an outlier". This type of weather is typical for this burning period. What was not typical was the state of the fuels. On any other year a red flag watch or warning would not be issued for this geographical area for the threat of thunderstorms. But on Sunday with the georgrahical (sic) area under extreme burning conditions maybe it least a red flag watch could have been posted. I don't want to armchair the weather office but it needs to be looked at. You don't want to be pulling the flag up unless it warrants it. South Canyon was issued a red flag warning in 1994. Chris Cuoco' message never made it to the fireline. That was the tragedy. There have been countless burnovers and close calls from thunderstorms. Hell, the dude fire did the same thing. Predictable is preventable. You you can count on a fire being unpreditable under such conditions. That's the thing. In the end it is predictable. You can bet on the lack of acting on intuition which brought flam (sic) on there backs. Just like Mann Gulch and South Canyon. Assumptions of the person above you in rank or in other agencies who knows what they are doing and not wanting to question their actions. We will see.

WXMAN42 July 4, 2013 at 11:56 AM @RentonRebel

To explain and hopefully address my thoughts better I will try to clarify. Your initial comment appeared to be an attempt to take a tragedy and turn it into a political statement without knowing what the whole process is, how the system works and is set up, what actually happened on the ground on that day or how fiscal policy affects/doesn’t affect the situation.

Unfortunately there are a lot of assumptions being made by folks that don’t know what did or didn’t happen on the ground and that is a foolish place to go. Even Cliff, whom I respect for all he has done with the NWS locally (Langley Hill radar) and nationally (pushing NCEP modeling efforts) and knows a lot about the inner workings of the NWS doesn’t understand how the NWS supports the firefighting agencies, either through the local weather office or hrough (sic) the IMET program. I say that based on the question he asked in the last paragraph “Were there any meteorologists working the fire? If not, why not?” If he understood the process and the working relationship between agencies, that question would not have been asked. Everyone is assuming that the outflow was a “surprise.” At this juncture I’m not saying it wasn’t but this assumption is based on what? Your perusal of the information disseminated between agencies or the logs of all the briefings that might have taken place between the various agencies at work or amongst the fire fighters themselves? If folks 1500 miles from the scene can sit back and “see” what happened clearly why assume that the local folks that deal with this type of weather every season didn’t “see” it coming? A quick and dirty primer on the IMET program can be found in this article along with some information on the weather support that had taken place that day. It’s a good and worthwhile read. ( There are so many other factors that could have led to this tragedy such as underestimating the change in fire behavior (historically low fuel moistures, high fuel loadings, etc.) with the wind shift, safety zone issues, communication problems, extreme topography complicating the escape, etc. Without the proper information which none of us have, we can’t sit back and make blanket assumptions and statements about what happened. One must also be careful about making blanket statements and assumptions about how fiscal policy affects or doesn’t affect the situation in the field. Local forecast offices are at the ready 24/7 t support the teams as needed and IMET support is there when needed as well, so “the ability to assist fire fighters in fires large AND small” exists and is in place and has not been impacted by the fiscal issues of late.

It would be best to let the investigation team do their work and discover what actually happened. Then, based on what they discover work toward solutions that will help prevent a similar tragedy in the future. Jumping to uninformed assumptions and conclusions is much more harmful than helpful. [An author comment is necessary here. Instead, what ensued was a Federally-funded SAIT-SAIR with a predetermined conclusion, i.e. “ indication of negligence, reckless actions, or violations of policy or protocol.” In other words, they did everything right. So then, how is it possible to do everything right and kill 19 GMHS in one fell swoop?] Hopefully I have explained my thoughts and not inflamed which is not my intent.

Gaelyn July 5, 2013 at 11:05 AM

Although your piece brings up very good points for the future of firefighting my gripe is that the BLM just stood around watching this fire at 8-10 acres on the first day and did nothing to put it out. Many friends who share Yarnell as home are now homeless and 19 valiant firefighters have perished. ["valiant firefighters? Really?]

Rock Wrapsody July 5, 2013 at 12:41 PM

This fire started Friday afternoon! Lightning struck on friday.

Anonymous July 5, 2013 at 1:04 PM @Gelyn According to early reports Arizona State Forestry took over the fire the next morning after the lightning came through. 2 crews,3 engines,2 air tankers and one egg beater where (sic) assigned by 10:00 am. Unless you have more solid info please share. If it was truly a BLM show for the first 24 hours, had command of initial attack and "willingly" held back resources through out the next burning period-----they have another South Canyon on their hands. Be careful with your words in the early stages of the investigation.

TacomaSailor July 5, 2013 at 5:08 PM

The Wildfire Lessons Learned Center ( ) has a searchable database (Incident Reviews) of wildfire incidents going back many decades. The reviews of past incidents (in this case "entrapment" or "burnover") are very detailed and contain critical assessments and recommendations. Unfortunately, that database contains far too many similar incidents of entrapment due to sudden, but predictable, wind shifts. As mentioned the Dude Fire (Walk Moore Canyon in Payson, Arizona 1990) was very similar in cause and result with six fire fighters trapped and killed by a sudden wind shift due to convective activity. As a result of that incident many changes were instituted to diminish the potential for entrapment due to sudden, and somewhat predictable, wind shifts. The Australian Rural Firefighting organization produced a video in 2000 (youtube [They refer to it as the Dead Man Zone] that documents the dangers due to sudden wind shifts. They detail many tragic events that have occurred during wildland fires in Australia. My understanding is that video is a required training item for all US wildland fire fighters. It is hard for me to understand how, with the strict standards set for US wildland fire fighters, especially LCES, and the modern understanding of the effect of rapidly moving convective activity on wildland fires, especially in steep terrain with many closed drainages, how the Granite Mountain Hotshots were assigned the task that led them to their entrapment and how spot forecasts were not demanded by their superintendent, and how Yarnell Incident Command did not order their withdrawal when the convective activity moved so rapidly toward them. I am sure the Lessons Learned Center will do their usual good job of determining where the breakdown occurred in forecasting, or communicating, or on the ground decision making.

My condolences to all involved. will do their usual good job of determining where the breakdown occurred in forecasting, or communicating, or on the ground decision making.

[See this post on the WLF LLC - Why Has the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center Lost Its Ethical Compass Defending The Federal USFS-Funded June 30, 2013, SAIT-SAIR Conclusion of No Wrongdoing?'

( ) ]

FireWx July 6, 2013 at 7:49 PM

I second what WXMAN42 and Alaska Progressive Review put forth. I will add though, as additional information to the question of Fire Weather Watch and Red Flag Warning and warnings are issued by the NWS after coordination with the land management agencies, when both fuels and predicted weather indicate critical fire weather conditions. It is a joint decision. Excellent analysis, Prof. Mass. Go Dawgs

Aaron Troy Small July 11, 2013 at 8:39 PM @WXMAN42 Is there some reason that a direct comparison couldn't be made between this fire and the Dude Ck Fire ( Sincerely, it appears that virtually the same situation occurred again, yet nobody had learned from the last one, so it was repeated. The USDA Forest Service has to understand that when forecasted weather conditions show the risk of extreme fire behavior, it is going to be awfully hard to explain why people were exposed to it merely to protect property, despite the increased risk. No fire on extreme fire days is routine and no one should send crews in assuming it will be routine. Occupational Health & Safety requires the provision of a safe work place. Any fire on extreme fire days is by definition, not a safe workplace. By all means, take risks if lives are at stake, even some risks if property is saveable, but on no account should risks be taken to save property or material that is shown by modeling to be unsaveable given the potential conditions. The rest of the world has adapted to reality and imposed virtually those same restrictions upon firefighter managers (notably the UK, Canada & Australia). It is well past time that the US did the same. Anyone who willfully ignores the risk and flouts it, should be held to account, like any other manager, in the criminal courts.