|The Big Lie
|“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it,
people will eventually come to believe it."
Joseph Goebbels, Reich Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda
Is the truth about what happened to the Granite Mountain Hotshots on the Yarnell Hill Fire important? To me it is and I have appointed myself as an
advocate and spokesperson for our dead 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots, which includes Eric Marsh. Why? Because as Edmund Burke said, “Those who
don't know history are doomed to repeat it."
This is much worse than simply failing to learn the lessons of wildland firefighting history because it guarantees the same tragedy will happen again,
again...and again. Why am I so sure it will happen again? Because the horrible deaths of the Granite Mountain Hotshots on the Yarnell Hill Fire is actually
the third time in history the very same thing has happened to hotshot crews in the very same way, for the very same primary reasons. There were the El
Cariso Hotshots on the Loop Fire of 1966, the Mormon Lake Hotshots on the Battlement Creek Fire of 1976, and now...the Granite Mountain Hotshots on
the Yarnell Hill Fire of 2013. Once is an anomaly, twice is a coincidence and three times is a pattern. The deaths of the Prineville Hotshots on the South
Canyon Fire (commonly called the Storm King Mountain Fire) of 1994 were an outlier compared to all other hotshot deaths on the three previously
mentioned disaster fires.
And although there have been dozens of disaster wildfires that have killed many hundreds of wildland firefighters, I am a student of only the Loop, the
Battlement Creek, the South Canyon and now the Yarnell Hill Fires because those are the only wildfires that killed hotshots, which is all I ever was (on the
fire line) or ever wanted to be. Not all wildland firefighting hand crews are designated as elite Type 1A hotshot crews...the best of the best. And in fact,
only a very small percentage of crews qualify for this rating which included the Granite Mountain Interagency Hotshot Crew as there are only a little more
than 100 hundred hotshot crews in the nation out of thousands of wildland fire crews.
The circumstances and the conditions surrounding the hotshot deaths on these other fires were nowhere near as shocking as those on the Yarnell Hill
Fire for too many reasons to discuss in this format. The inexplicable decisions made by Marsh on the Yarnell Hill Fire have left the wildland firefighting
world dumbfounded and turned upside down. We know exactly why all other hotshots died on the other three hotshot disaster fires, but even after all of
this time has passed, wildland firefighters are still searching for some logical explanation to understand why Marsh killed his crew other than...sometimes
bad things happen to good people.
That explanation is unacceptable and is all the Yarnell Hill Fire Serious Accident Investigation Team concluded in their Yarnell Hill Fire Serious Accident
Investigation Report, which reads like what it is...poorly written bureaucratic contradictory, deceptive, and disingenuous doublespeak that was created to
serve only one purpose...to shield the Arizona Division of Forestry and the Yarnell Hill Fire Command Staff (Overhead) from civil liability. The cumulative
decisions made by the Yarnell Hill Fire Overhead Team were staggering in their level of sheer incompetency and gross negligence.
Or as former Prescott Fire Department Wildlands Division Chief Darrell Willis has proclaimed, "It was just one of those things that happened. You can call
it an accident. I just say that God had a different plan for that crew at this time", and I call pure and unadulterated BULLSHIT on that entire concept! Even
though I can sincerely say I believe in God just as much as wannabe [Pastor] Darrell Willis does. God wasn't on the Godforsaken Yarnell Hill Fire, I believe
the Great Creator was busy elsewhere on June 30, 2013, helping those who help themselves.
The article I linked to says the following in part, "The voice of what actually happened, we’ll never know, Willis says. We’re not going to have that
information from [the dead men]. Willis continues, it was just one of those things that happened. You can call it an accident. I just say that God had a
different plan for that crew at this time.
Invocation of a spiritual cause for the hotshots’ deaths has triggered sharp criticism from former wildland firefighters interviewed for this story.
If you accept that this horrific catastrophe — unprecedented in the history of hotshots — is because God had a different plan for those 19 men, then you
are not going to go beyond God’s will for causal factors, and that means you’re going to leave the door open for this to happen again,” says Gary Olson, a
former superintendent of Arizona’s Happy Jack Hotshots, founder of the Santa Fe Hotshots, and, later, a U.S. Bureau of Land Management criminal
I interpreted what Willis way saying as a big cop out. “We will just never know because they are dead and that’s the way God wanted it.” That may not be
what he meant, but that is what he said. "There is nothing to see here…move along, this just couldn't be helped” is what I heard Willis say. Which is what I
am saying BULLSHIT to, not Willis’ belief in God or his interpretation of how God works in our daily lives.
So sayeth I, Gary L. Olson, former U.S. Forest Service wildland firefighter, Prescott National Forest, hotshot crew boss of the Happy Jack Interagency
Hotshot Crew, Coconino National Forest, hotshot crew founder and crew boss of the Santa Fe Interagency Hotshot Crew, Santa Fe National Forest,
Assistant District Fire Management Officer of the Espanola Ranger District, Santa National Forest, Santa Fe National Forest Dispatcher, Zone Interagency
Fire Operations Center Coordinator, Coconino County (Arizona) Deputy Sheriff, Santa Fe National Forest Chief Law Enforcement Officer and retired
Supervisory Criminal Investigator and Senior Special Agent BLM New Mexico State Office, BLM Arizona State Office & USDI - BLM Washington D.C. Office
of Law Enforcement and Security (1974 - 2006, Duty Stations - Prescott, AZ, Flagstaff AZ, Santa Fe, NM, Phoenix, AZ, Albuquerque, NM, Farmington, NM, &
Phoenix, AZ, 2.0).
God Bless America and our Wildland Firefighters!
On June 30, 2013, Eric Marsh ordered his crew, the Granite Mountain Interagency Hotshots to their deaths on the
Yarnell Hill Fire in Arizona over the repeated objections of his assistant crew boss, Captain Jesse Steed who was
burned alive with 17 crewmen under his command because he ultimately followed Marsh's orders.
Eric Marsh's inexcusable behavior resulted in arguably the single worst loss of life of wildland firefighters (19) on a
fire in history and almost doubled the total number hotshots killed on all other wildfires (24) in the line of duty since
hotshot crews were first created by the U.S. Forest Service in southern California in 1947 - 1948.
What happened on the Yarnell Hill Fire was unimaginable...right up to the minute it became our reality and was the
single biggest blunder in wildland firefighting history that shook us to our very core. Marsh's blatant disregard for
almost all of the safety rules and guidelines that were developed to keep wildland firefighters safe at the cost of
countless lives over more than 100 years in the United States were catastrophic and can't be overstated. Marsh's
reckless actions were completely off all of the known disaster fire charts and graphs and caused everyone to
recalibrate their own Disaster Fire O'Meters by redefining the very term itself.
Unfortunately, "The Big Lie" is being perpetuated by the 100 Club of Arizona and the Eric Marsh Foundation for
Wildland Firefighters. Please contact them and ask them to stop telling lies about what happened on the Yarnell Hill
Fire to the Granite Mountain Interagency Hotshot Crew. The lives of more wildland firefighters are at risk because of
their lies and irresponsible behavior.