- Significant new details have emerged regarding the investigation into the Yarnell Hill Fire in 2013, where 19 Granite Mountain Hotshot firefighters tragically lost their lives.
- Autopsy records have revealed that critical pieces of evidence, including a cell phone and a functioning camera, were not provided to the state-contracted investigation.
- This evidence, which could provide insights into why the crew moved from a safe location into a dangerous canyon, somehow ended up with family members outside the official chain of custody.
- The implications of these revelations raise further questions about the handling of the tragedy’s investigation and its subsequent litigation.
The Tragedy Revisited: Yarnell Hill Fire
The Yarnell Hill Fire in June 2013 marked one of the most devastating days in the history of American firefighting. Nineteen members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, an elite group of firefighters, tragically lost their lives while battling the fast-spreading blaze. The events of that day left a deep scar on the community of Yarnell, Arizona, and throughout the country, leading to a state-contracted investigation into the circumstances surrounding the disaster.
Uncovered Evidence: A Twist in the Tale
Despite the passage of nearly a decade, new revelations have come to light about the tragedy. Journalist John Dougherty’s Investigative MEDIA organization has discovered a significant anomaly in the investigation. Autopsy records obtained by the organization revealed that a cell phone and a functioning camera, both key pieces of evidence, were not provided to the state-contracted investigation team.
The cell phone belonged to Granite Mountain Superintendent Eric Marsh, while the camera belonged to Hotshot firefighter Christopher MacKenzie. Intriguingly, these items were present with the bodies of the men when they arrived at the Office of the Maricopa County Medical Examiner on July 1, 2013. However, the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office (YCSO), responsible for gathering evidence from the medical examiner, had no record of these items. In a strange turn of events, both Marsh’s cell phone and MacKenzie’s camera ended up with family members outside the official chain of custody.
The Missing Puzzle Pieces: Marsh’s Phone and MacKenzie’s Camera
The absence of Marsh’s cell phone and MacKenzie’s camera from the investigation records presents a significant oversight. Marsh’s cell phone could have revealed who he was communicating with before and during the crew’s move from a safe, burned-over area to a chaparral-filled box canyon. This movement was the fateful decision that led to the Hotshots being trapped by the fast-advancing flames.
The camera owned by MacKenzie holds potential value too. It contained video clips of a critical discussion between Marsh and Granite Mountain Captain Jesse Steed, suggesting a disagreement over tactics just before the crew left their safe zone.
The Role of Privacy and Public Interest
In the immediate aftermath of the fire, Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk refused to release the autopsy reports, citing privacy concerns for the families of the fallen firefighters. She stated these privacy interests outweighed the public’s right to examine the reports under the Arizona Public Records Law.
These autopsy reports were only released in October 2015, after repeated media requests and after the resolution of all litigation filed by the families of the Hotshots seeking $237 million in damages from the state Forestry Division and the Central Yavapai County Fire District.
Conclusion: Quest for Answers Continues
The recent discovery of this overlooked evidence raises numerous questions. How did these crucial items end up outside the formal chain of custody? Why were they not included in the official investigation? Could they have offered valuable insights into the crew’s fatal decision-making on that fateful day?
While these questions currently remain unanswered, the commitment to uncovering the truth about the Yarnell Hill Fire tragedy continues. The hope is that these recent revelations will ultimately help enhance our understanding of the circumstances surrounding this heartbreaking event, contribute to the improvements in safety measures, and provide some closure for the loved ones of the Granite Mountain Hotshots who made the ultimate sacrifice.