Florida State forester Jim Karels to lead investigation into deaths of 19 Arizona firefighters

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Florida State Forester Jim Karels has been named the lead investigator for the review of the tragic deaths of 19 firefighters in Arizona this week. The Arizona State Forestry Division announced the members of the Yarnell Hill Investigation Team that will investigate the deaths of the Granite Mountain Hotshots killed Sunday in the Yarnell Hill Fire. The investigation begins immediately.  

“Our hearts go out to the people of Arizona, especially to the families of the 19 men who tragically lost their lives while protect the lives of others,” said Commissioner of Agriculture Adam H. Putnam. “Jim Karels is a nationally recognized firefighter who will use his decades of experience to lead this team to better understand what happened and how to possibly prevent such a terrible loss in the future.” 

A wildfire in Yarnell, Arizona, northwest of Phoenix, claimed the lives of 19 wildland firefighters on Sunday. The fire started on Friday and spread to more than 6,000 acres in two days. Sunday was the deadliest day for U.S. firefighters since Sept. 11, 2001, and the deadliest wildfire since 1933. 

Karels will lead the independent investigation, and Mike Dudley, Acting Director of Cooperative Forestry of the U.S. Forest Service, will be the secondary team lead. Others participating in the investigation include the U.S. Forest Service Missoula Technology and Development Center, the Missoula Fire Department, the Bureau of Land Management and the Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health. The local liaisons to the nine-member Yarnell Hill Investigation Team are Arizona State Forester Scott Hunt and Prescott Fire Chief Dan Fraijo. 

Karels, appointed Florida State Forester in 2008, is director of the Florida Forest Service, which manages 1 million acres of public forest land while protecting more than 26 million acres of homes, forestland, and natural resources from the devastating effects of wildfire. 

He has more than 30 years of experience in land management and wildfire suppression, including four fire seasons with the U.S. Forest Service. He represents all 50 states as the National Association of State Foresters Wildfire Committee Chairman and serves on the Wildland Fire Leadership Council providing support for the implementation and coordination of national fire management policies. He is a member of the Governor’s Land Acquisition and Restoration Council and sits on numerous national boards and associations dealing with wildland fire suppression and forest land management.  

Karels also organized and directed the interagency review team into the Blue Ribbon Fire, which took the lives of two Florida wildland firefighters on June 20, 2011. The team, comprised of representatives of the Florida Forest Service, U.S. Forest Service, Georgia Forestry Commission and Office of State Fire Marshal, worked together to gather all factual information regarding the Florida Forest Service’s response to the Blue Ribbon Fire and to discover and define the environmental, management and human factors that contributed to the tragic incident, as well as identify steps to take to prevent similar incidents in the future. 

In addition to Karels, one Florida Forest Service firefighter has been assigned to the Yarnell Hill Fire, and one mitigation specialist/public information officer was assigned to assist efforts in Colorado.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.