TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Florida State Forester Jim Karels has just been announced as lead investigator to review the tragic deaths of 19 firefighters in Arizona, according to the Arizona State Forestry Division.
The wildfire in Yarnell, Arizona, northwest of Phoenix, started on Friday June 28 and spread to more than 6,000 acres in two days. Sunday, the fire claimed the lives of 19 wildland firefighters and was the deadliest day for U.S. firefighters since September 11, 2001, and the deadliest wildfire since 1933.
"Our hearts go out to the people of Arizona, especially to the families of the 19 men who tragically lost their lives while [protecting] the lives of others," said Commissioner of Agriculture Adam H. Putnam.
Acting Director of Cooperative Forestry of the U.S. Forest Service, Mike Dudley, will be the secondary team lead. The investigation begins immediately.
One additional Florida Forest Service Firefighter is also assigned to the Yarnell Hill Fire. The local liaisons to the nine-member Yarnell Hill Investigation Team are Arizona State Forester Scott Hunt and Prescott Fire Chief Dan Fraijo.
Other participants in the investigation include: the U.S. Forest Service Missoula Technology and Development Center, the Missoula Fire Department, the Bureau of Land Management, and the Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health.
Karels, appointed Florida State Forester in 2008, is director of the Florida Forest Service, which protects more than 26 million acres of homes, forestland, and natural resources from the devastating effects of wildfires. He has more than 30 years of experience in land management and wildfire suppression and is also the National Association of State Foresters Wildfire Committee Chairman.
Karels organized and directed the interagency review team into the Blue Ribbon Fire, which took the lives of two Florida wildland firefighters on June 20, 2011. The team worked to discover and define the environmental, management, and human factors that contributed to the tragic incident as well as identify preventative steps.
"Jim Karels is a nationally recognized firefighter who will use his decades of experience to lead this team to better understand what happened and how to possibly prevent such a terrible loss in the future," said Putnam.
For statewide wildfire updates and additional wildfire information, visit www.floridaforestservice.com. For more information about the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, visit www.freshfromflorida.com.
First Coast News