Doug Fir 777
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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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 ( https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-50946-0_47 )
It Could Not Be Seen Because It Could Not Be Believed on June 30, 2013
( https://philpapers.org/archive/SCHICN.pdf )
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
( https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/capital-weather-gang/wp/2013/07/01/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. (https://bible.knowing-jesus.com/topics/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 Âµm 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 Âµm visible images (above) — and this pyroCb plume and overshooting top appeared warmer/darker on GOES-15 3.9 Âµm 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 Âµm 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 Âµm visible channel and 11.45 Âµm 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 - mattossphotography.com 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 -
( mattossphotography.com/yarnellfiregallery/ ) Twitter - @mattoss21
mattossphotography.com "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. ( nytimes.com/2013/07/07/us/a-painful-mix-of-fire-wind-and-questions.html?hp )" 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  [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 . 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."