Florida Forest Service director to lead investigation into Arizona wildfire


Tampa Bay Times

The director of the Florida Forest Service has been selected to lead an investigation into the wildfire that killed 19 firefighters in Arizona this week.

Jim Karels will start work immediately on the Yarnell Hills Investigation Team, which is tasked with looking into the blaze that killed most of the Granite Mountain Hotshots elite firefighting squad Sunday.

"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," said Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam in a statement Wednesday.

Nine other officials will serve on Karels’s team, according to the statement. He is the only representative from Florida, but another state Forest Service firefighter was also assigned to help with the Yarnell Hill blaze.

Two years ago, Karels led a review into the Blue Ribbon Fire in northern Florida near the Georgia border. Two Florida wildlands firefighters died in that blaze.

Karels has worked for more than 30 years in land management and wildfire suppression, officials said. He is the chairman of the National Association of State Foresters Wildfire Committee and works with the Wildland Fire Leadership Council.

A state spokeswoman said Karels was already on the ground in Arizona on Wednesday morning and would not be available for an interview.

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