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After Yarnell: Making changes to prevent wildfire tragedies

It was a hot, dry summer Sunday morning in central Arizona on June 30, 2013 when twenty members of the Granite Mountain Hotshot crew left their base in Prescott and headed to the raging wildfire which had been burning for two days.

The Yarnell Hill Fire was the deadliest wildfire in Arizona history and one of the deadliest U.S. firefighter disasters in history
The Yarnell Hill Fire was the deadliest wildfire in Arizona history and one of the deadliest U.S. firefighter disasters in history
Getty Images/ Christian Petersen
The Yarnell Hill Fire claimed the lives of 19 members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots
AP Photo/ The Arizona Republic/ David Kadlubowski

At the end of the day, only one firefighter returned from Yarnell. On the 6-month anniversary of the deadliest wildfire in years, The Weather Channel examines some of the contributing factors to the Yarnell fire.

“Climate change, poor forest management, cyclical dryness and drought, reckless real estate development and the over-commitment of firefighters to fight every fire have put us in a hole that may take decades to get out of,” said Neil Katz, vice president of content at The Weather Company and editor-in-chief of “Tragic fires are happening more frequently, and we want to bring awareness to this serious national problem to help keep people safe and try to stop it from happening.”

The Weather Channel investigates the larger problem of U.S. wildfires in the original multimedia documentary and in-depth written report, “America Burning”, which you can find at the link above.

The report focuses on contributing factors such as climate change, drought and issues gone wrong over 100 years that created this predicament.

Strong winds of more than 22 mph had pushed the Yarnell fire from 300 acres to more than 2,000 acres on June 30. A long-term drought and temperatures higher than 100 degrees were also contributing factors to the rapid spread of the fire.

The Yarnell fire, like many other recent wildfires, took place in a developed area with over 100 homes built in the midst of the forest.

By the time the fire was fully contained on July 10, a total of 8,400 acres had burned and the loss of the Granite Mountain Hotshot crew had affected many Americans.

The greatest danger faced by many wildfire firefighters is the rapid development of forest lands. An estimated 8.4 million homes were built in fire-prone areas in the 1990s, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

The Firewise Communities Program encourages homeowners to take responsibility for protecting their homes and surrounding property from wildfires.

Firewise offers homeowners tips based on the "home ignition zone" concept, which encompasses the 200 feet surrounding homes built in fire-prone forest areas.

By using non-flammable construction materials and reducing landscaping in the area surrounding forest homes, homeowners can help reduce the risk of life-threatening wildfires.

In the aftermath of the Yarnell Hill Fire, discussions continue about the best ways to protect and preserve lives, homes and property from wildfires.

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