The National Geographic published a Web story by John N. Maclean FN 02 about the twin anniversaries in June 2014 of two fatal western wildfires, and how the lessons of the older fire failed to prevent a similar tragic outcome two decades later.
The 20th anniversary of the South Canyon Fire of 1994 on July 6, a week after the first anniversary of the Yarnell Hill Fire, on June 30.
The South Canyon blaze killed 14 firefighters and did much to change how wildland fire is fought. But then last year on June 30 in Arizona circumstances that were disturbingly similar to the South Canyon Fire—rugged mountain topography, height of the burn period, violently changing fire behavior, a storm sweeping in, absence of adequate supervision, bad communications—combined to produce a similar fatal outcome, and 19 firefighters were killed on the Yarnell Hill Fire.
Maclean is the author of Fire on the Mountain: The True Story of the South Canyon Fire, and several other books on wildland fire, most recently The Esperanza Fire: Arson, Murder, and the Agony of Engine 57. Those two books are currently being developed as feature films.
The Yarnell Hill Fire as it crested the Weaver Mountains near Yarnell at the approximate time of the fatalities. Photo by Matt Oss.
John Maclean’s books are available on his Web site.