State keeping Yarnell Hill Fire secrets, say critics - KCTV5

State keeping Yarnell Hill Fire secrets, say critics

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YARNELL, AZ (CBS5) -

Shortly after the Yarnell Hill Fire killed 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots, investigators appointed by the state forester interviewed members of a Hotshot team that was working nearby.

The Blue Ridge Hotshots were among the last to speak to the Granite Mountain Hotshots via radio and the investigators wanted to know what was said during the radio conversations. But the notes taken by the investigators have never been made public, according to a law professor who has spent months trying to gain access to them through Arizona's public records law.

"The investigation team members withheld their notes from their interviews with the key players on the Yarnell Hill Fire," said Elizabeth Nowicki, who is a law professor and expert witness on risk management cases.

Nowicki is among a growing number of voices demanding more transparency from the Arizona Forestry Division. The criticism began immediately after the Serious Accident Investigation Team released its report (available here) on what went wrong.

The report blamed weather and communications problems, but failed to hold anyone accountable for the deaths or the mistakes that led to them.

An investigation released months later did find blame. It was conducted by the Arizona Department of Occupational Safety and Health, (available here) blamed numerous missteps on supervisors and the state forestry division.

The discrepancies in the two investigations have added to criticism of the Forestry Division. Some of those critics are family members of the firefighters who died.

"There's a lot of things that had been withheld and lied about, and you cannot lie to somebody about how their child died," said Scott McKee, whose son, Grant, was killed on the mountain that day.

McKee believes state forestry officials know more than they have disclosed about what happened.

Nowicki, the law professor, told CBS 5 Investigates that one of the side effects of secrecy, is that it creates conspiracy theories.

"A lot of what is being withheld is minutiae. Yet, by withholding it, the federal government and Arizona State Forester Scott Hunt are making it look like there's a smoking gun that they're trying to hide," said Nowicki.

Copyright 2014 CBS 5 (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.

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