I chose to do my case study on the 2013 Yarnell Hill Fire. I remembered hearing news stories about the fire, so I decided to look into it when it came up in a list of the most devastating wildfires in US history.

The wildfire was started on June 28th of 2013, with the official cause being lightning. The initial reports did not view the fire as an immediate threat, so suppression efforts were put off until the next day. Unfortunately, the circumstances were prime for massive wildfires. The area was (and had been) in extreme drought for a significant period of time (figure 1 shows the drought conditions days before the blaze), the weather was hot, and the relative humidity was low. The terrain was made up of grasses, and low shrubbery, also known for strong fires.  Sometime during the blaze, a thunderstorm system with microburst ended up drastically changing wind speed and direction. This is when major tragedy struck. On June 30th, 19 firefighters from the granite mountain hotshots were killed after a sequence of miscommunication and poor planning. Their deaths made the wildfire one of the deadliest wildfires, with the most firefighter deaths in one event since 9/11.

The town was relatively unprepared, with many houses up against brush or other fuel materials. Additionally, the population was primarily elderly and low income, which could have impacted their abilities to retrofit their homes. By the time the fire was contained, over 8,000 acres had burned, and over 100 residences were damaged or destroyed. Arizona did have a disaster relief plan, which was credited with the organization of aid to the community. However, the fire was not deemed a disaster by FEMA, limiting federal funding. Media coverage surrounding the firefighters’ deaths played a large role in the recovery of the community, as public donations and help came pouring in.


Overall, a rapid change in weather conditions, drought,  and bad communication turned a wildfire into a tragedy that reached national levels.


Granite Mountain Hotshot Memorial Video

On This Day: Remembering the Yarnell Hill Wildfire | News | National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI)

Figure 1: Drought map days before the fire



  1. I have never heard of this wildfire before this. That’s such a sad story that those firefighters died all because the city didn’t think the fire would get that bad. I hope this wildfire has been a lesson to those that live there that any fire should be taken very seriously. I think you did a really job great presenting this case study. I also liked the visual of where Yarnell is since I really had no clue where it is.

  2. This was really informative, I had no idea that this wildfire happened. The story with the firefighters passing away in the field is really sad and touching, and I liked that you included a video to learn more about those who lost their life in fighting this fire. It’s really interesting to me that the area was already in extreme drought conditions with grasslands and shrubs ready to burn and that despite those things, they didn’t see the fire as a huge threat initially. It’s tragic that a sudden change in circumstances caused the fire to spread so severely and cause so much destruction. I wonder if any changes in policy for the areas affected were implemented after this fire, possibly regarding clearing fuel from being nearby homes and such? I was surprised to hear that many homeowners let fuel build up in such close proximity to their homes — but then again, wildfires can be unexpected and sudden at times. It’s also so frustrating that federal aid was limited due to this incident not being officially declared as a disaster. It makes my heart ache for those who were impacted or lost their homes to this and I’m glad that the community banded together to help each other recover.

Comments are closed.