Most important, however, we’ve learned how powerless we truly are when it comes to wildfires. Despite impressive technological advances in firefighting, we are still at the mercy of weather, such as the thunderstorm and lightning strike that brought tragedy to Yarnell. Firefighters with decades of experience tell me that they have never seen fire behavior as extreme as what they are seeing now. We simply cannot stop high-intensity, wind-driven wildfires, and we need to quit asking firefighters to place themselves in harm’s way.
Over the next few months, there will be an inquiry into why the Granite Mountain Hotshots died. Like previous investigations, it will probably unfairly blame “poor decision-making” by the firefighters, who can no longer defend their actions. Parallels are already being drawn to the 1994 South Canyon Fire in Colorado, when 14 elite firefighters died and investigators pointed to errors in the way the fire was fought. The firefighting community will come up with a new set of safety standards and go through more training, and the public will mourn the dead and then move on to the next tragedy. Meanwhile, the people of Yarnell and other Western communities where wildfires have consumed homes this summer will receive their insurance checks and rebuild. Things will go back to business as usual for everyone — except the loved ones of those lost.