Investigative report on Yarnell wildfire refuted

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By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman

PHOENIX -- Exactly one month after 19 firefighters died in the Yarnell Hill Fire, a new report by an independent investigative journalist claims big mistakes were made by the leader of the Granite Mountain Hotshots.

A spokesman for the Arizona State Forestry Division said that is not true. He said the reporter, John Dougherty, fabricated the story.

Jim Paxon is with Arizona Game and Fish but has been appointed the spokesman for the Arizona State Forestry Division. “He (Jerry Payne, the Arizona State Forestry Division deputy director) had an extended casual conversation with Dougherty. I think that this report took some extreme liberties and some very obtuse interpretations of that conversation."

Dougherty’s report quotes a high ranking forest official saying that Eric Marsh, the leader of the hotshot crew, broke safety rules.

Payne reportedly said, “The Division Supervisor broke...rules and put people at risk.”

Paxon disputed Dougherty's story saying it was, “misquoted and erroneous.”

3TV offered Payne a chance to clarify his own comments, but he declined.

When asked why Payne refused to go on camera, Paxon said, “I'm simply assisting them with public affairs and public information, I understand that, public side of things.”

Specifically, the report says Payne believes the Hotshot crew members could not see the fire coming because they did not have a spotter.

According to safety guidelines, wildland firefighters are supposed to know where the fire is and have a lookout posted at all times.

“This is a difficult thing for those families and I'm just appalled that a story like this would appear that is drawn on conclusion and misrepresentation and I don't think this is appropriate,” said Paxon.

The Prescott Fire Department chief said the accusations published in Dougherty's article are an insult to firefighter Eric Marsh, his family and those who worked with him.

"I think this is one of the most disgusting incidents that I've had in my entire career," said Prescott Fire Department Chief Dan Fraijo. "There's an investigation that's taking place. We don't have complete information. I don't know where this person got the information. I can't do anything but respond to the disgust I have for something that is so insensitive and quite frankly to me unethical."

Official: Granite Mountain Hotshot leader Eric Marsh violated safety protocols while acting as a “division supervisor”

Arizona State Forestry Division’s Response to Inquiries Surrounding Recent Statements