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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 food: Steak and shrimp, and any food on campouts.

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

Favorite news memory: 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. The 2007 Southern California Firestorm and being at Sky Harbor Airport when the first plane lifted off several days after 9-11. Seeing the American flag on the tail of the Salt Lake City-bound Delta airliner as it took off still gives me goosebumps.

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

First job: Spinning records at KLER Radio Orofino, Idaho 1980.

First concert: KISS/Cheap Trick 1977 Spokane, WA Coliseum.

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

Outside interests: Sports, camping, fishing, traveling.


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