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Changes coming for firefighters after Yarnell deaths

PHOENIX -- There will be changes on the fire lines this year after last June's Yarnell Hill fire left 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots dead.

Arizona State Forester Scott Hunt can't say if the Yarnell tragedy is responsible for the changes because of pending lawsuits, but his agency has pre-positioned equipment around the state earlier than normal. In some cases, they will hit fires earlier and harder than last year.

"It will depend on the area and what we're seeing in our fire behavior predictions," he said.

Another change this year is that the state will team up with the forest service and its San Dimas Technology Center to test GPS tracking units that will be part of some firefighters' gear.

"We're looking at a couple of different commercial models that we're going to use," said Hunt. "We'll put them with various fire organizations and see how useful they are in the wildland firefighting environment."

Hunt said they're also working on better communications between various agencies when they are battling wildfires.

"Sharing our frequencies and making sure our frequencies are loaded on our interagency partners radios so we all have the same frequencies."

The Serious Accident Investigation team report found there was a communication gap of more than 30 minutes, when the Granite Mountain crew did not communicate their location or plans before they died.

The Yarnell Hill Fire burned 8,400 acres, destroyed more than 125 structures and forced hundreds to evacuate in Yarnell, Glen Ilah and Peeples Valley.

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About the Author


Position: Senior News Reporter. Started with KTAR July 4, 1999.

Favorite spots in Arizona: Pinetop-Lakeside, Alpine, Greer.

Have covered some of the biggest stories in Arizona including nine of the top 10 largest wildfires in state history. The Wallow Fire in 2011 became the largest fire in state history. Rodeo-Chediski Fire in June 2002, which is the second largest fire in Arizona. Covered the Yarnell Hill Tragedy in June 2013 that left 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots dead.

Favorite movies: True Grit, both 1969 John Wayne classic and the remake with Jeff Bridges and Lonesome Dove.

Sports Teams: Washington State University Cougars, Texas Longhorns, The University of Montana Grizzlies.

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