Radio Problems Cited in Deaths of Firefighters in Yarnell Hill Blaze

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Investigation cites 33-minute communication blackout while men were hiking out of safe zone

    (NECN/NBC News: Dan Scheneman) - The Yarnell Hill fire, the single deadliest wildfire for firefighters in 80 years, claimed the lives of 19 members of the Granite Mountain Hotshot team in June. Saturday, officials released the findings of their three month investigation.

    The report is the first account of the hotshot squad's movements and communications, from where they built fire breaks by hand to their last known lunch break site.

    At 3:50 pm, the lookout and lone survivor noticed the fire intensifying and turning toward the city of Yarnell. He warned his crew and within fifteen minutes, the hotshots squad radioed in.

    It was the start of a 30 minute hike toward safety that led them face-to-face with an inferno.

    "The wind shifted again and increased in velocity and brought the fire up the canyon at them," said Jim Karels, lead investigator, Yarnell  Hill Fire Serious Accident Investigation.

    Left unanswered: Why did the crew chose to leave the presumed safety of a burned zone where they'd been working?

    "They made a decision based on the info they had. We do not have any documentation that gives us any motive or intent to go down into that location," said Mike Dudley, deputy, US Forest Service.

    Officials say the tragedy will become a learning experience for firefighters across the country in hopes of preventing such a loss of life from happening again.