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19: The True Story Of The Yarnell Fire

Kyle Dickman, Outside magazine's associate editor and a former hotshot firefighter, pieces together the final hours of Prescott, Arizona's Granite Mountain Hotshots, the elite team of firefighters who battled the Yarnell Hill Fire on June 30, 2013. Nineteen of the crew's 20 members would perish:

"The hotshots who’d brought their phones texted or called their loved ones. Another sawyer, Scott Norris, who’d come to Granite Mountain this season after four years on a Forest Service hotshot crew in Payson, Arizona, texted with his girlfriend, Heather.

"Heather: 'I had a weird dream I proposed to Scott last night.' Then, 'Oh, hi. That was meant for Sarah!'

"Scott: 'I’m a little old fashioned. I think I’d like to be the one to propose.'

"Scott: 'Just watched a DC3 slurry bomber nearly collide midair with a Sikorsky helicopter.'

"Heather: 'Holy hell! That certainly would have made the news.'

"Scott: 'This fire is going to shit burning all over and expected 40+ mile per hour wind gust from t-storm outflow. Possibly going to burn some ranches and houses.'

"And finally, when the fire was racing straight at Donut, Scott texted a final photo of flames filling the valley below them: 'Holy shit! This thing is running at Yarnell!'"
PUBLISHED: Sept. 17, 2013
LENGTH: 39 minutes (9851 words)

In the Line of Wildfire

The writer embeds with the Hotshots, an elite group of wilderness firefighters, for a season:

"At 11 P.M., the crew hooks over the top of the spot and starts building line down the eastern flank and back toward the creek. Rojas is mowing through the brush when a flare-up sends a wash of embers overhead. Behind him, Cowell yells, 'RTO! RTO!' It stands for reverse tool order, which basically means get the hell out. The crews power through the brush to the top of the spot, where they pause to catch their breath.

"Burning mountains surround them, and Cowell has to make a decision. They either gamble and try to put out the spot fire by building a firebreak directly on its eastern edge, or they back off and take the line up to the ridge top. Option two is safer, but it gives the fire a chance to gain momentum. Cowell sends Rice downhill to scout. The foreman climbs a tree, sees emergency lights flashing 500 feet below, and hears another hotshot crew’s saws screaming in the night. The fire looks manageable. “We can do this,” Rice radios to Cowell."
PUBLISHED: June 13, 2013
LENGTH: 20 minutes (5188 words)