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Saturday, July 6, 2013

YARNELL HILL INVESTIGATION: Where There's Smoke There's Fire

State and federal investigators in Arizona continue to probe the deadly Yarnell Hill fire which killed 19 Hotshot firefighters a week ago, leaving just one survivor from the 20-man crew unharmed -- convicted felon Brendan McDonough.
Brendan McDonough December 2010 arrest photo
McDonough, who served as the team's lookout, was arrested in December 2010 for burglary and trafficking stolen goods, but also had prior problems before that date. Some of which involved alcohol and illegal substances.
He successfully pleaded down the three charges related to felony theft by "acting remorseful" and turning against his crime cohort, Seth Taylor. Otherwise he wouldn't have been permitted to join Granite Mountain's elite but doomed firefighting unit shortly thereafter.
The 21-year-old continues to maintain that he was stationed on a nearby ridge overlooking his colleagues as they were constructing a fire barricade below, and that he informed them the path of the wildfire had dangerously shifted.
He says he then abandoned his post and crew to flee for his own safety.
By today, however, officials are still unable to verify McDonough's alleged location that afternoon and are pressing him to provide further details.
Also hindering their inquiry into the Yarnell Fire is the fact that radio communications between Brendan McDonough and his now-dead teammates apparently weren't recorded.
Drought conditions and dry lightening are believed to be the initial cause of the mountainside blaze, but a dramatic change in wind speed and direction is what prevented the firefighters from reaching their established safe zone only a quarter-mile away.
Investigators say it appears that a wall of flames rapidly encircled the men as they were retreating, although it remains unclear why they would've waited until it was too late to begin to head for shelter.
All 19 victims succumbed in the field from smoke inhalation and burns. As with McDonough, most were only in their twenties.

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