Florida State Forrester Jim Karels is no stranger to the tragedy of losing firefighters.
“Yesterday was a tragic day in Florida, Division of Forestry and all of our firefighters,” said Karels.
Now Florida’s top forestry firefighter will lead the probe into what went wrong in Arizona when 19 firefighters died on Sunday.
“It’s a tragedy to lose anyone, but to lose so many at once, our hearts just break for them. We know what it feels like to lose someone in the line of duty,” said Erin Gillespie.
Nationally recognized, Arizona state officials called Jim Karels to lead the independent investigation. He will use his 30 years of experience to help find answers for those in the Southwest. He landed in Arizona at midnight eastern time Wednesday morning.
Florida is no stranger to losing firefighters in the line of duty. Since 2000, 50 have been added to the Wall of Honor; including two Karels oversaw.
The Yarnell Fire had burned about 13 square miles, destroying nearly 200 homes and prompted hundreds to evacuate. Sunday was the deadliest day for firefighters in American since 9-11; and the deadliest in a wildfire since 1933. Karels will now work around the clock in this investigation.
“He felt like it was the right thing to do and wants to figure our what happened so we can prevent the loss of any lives,” said Gillespie.
It’s unknown how long Karels will be in Arizona, but fire officials hope the investigation will keep any tragedy like the Yarnell Fire from happening again.
Florida is in one the best situations in a long time related to fire danger. Nearly the entire state is in the lowest risk for wildfire danger, except a few counties in the Panhandle; which are expected to get several inches of rain this week.