Dad Of Fallen Arizona Hotshot Hopes To Make Better Fire Shelters The father of one of the 19 firefighters who died a year ago in the Yarnell Hill Fire wants to create shelters that better shield against direct flames.

Dad Of Fallen Arizona Hotshot Hopes To Make Better Fire Shelters

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DAVID GREENE, BYLINE: A year ago today, the deadly Yarnell Hill wildfire took the lives of 19 elite firefighters and left the state of Arizona in mourning. The crew was boxed in by flames in a canyon, and their portable fire shelters, a last safety resort, didn't save them. Today, the father of one of the dead firefighters is trying to help the Forest Service build a better shelter. Here's Laurel Morales from member station KJZZ.

LAUREL MORALES, BYLINE: David Turbyfill doesn't want his son Travis to have died in vain. He recently sent a video he made to anyone who'd take notice. One of the first images in it is a photo taken during the investigation of the Yarnell Hill fire. Nineteen twisted piles of crumpled aluminum and ash - the barely recognizable remains of the fire shelters. Later in the video, we see Turbyfill's recent shelter test. A large metal pipe shoots fire for 30 seconds onto the current fire shelter material layered over a firefighter's yellow fire retardant shirt. Turbyfill, wearing protective glasses and gloves, holds the metal frame off the now black shirt. He holds it up to the camera.


DAVID TURBYFILL: The shirt material has obviously scorched. It's hardened. It's brittle.

MORALES: Then he runs the same test but a minute longer over a fireproof fabric Turbyfill found on the Internet.

TURBYFILL: So let's take a look and see what our results are on this one. My inner foil - no burn through, still intact. And the firefighter's shirt is completely intact.

MORALES: For anyone who's seen a wildfire, the video gets your attention. Turbyfill's metal fabricating shop is in Prescott. There, he talks statistics. In the last two decades, burn-over and entrapment accounted for 25 percent of wild land firefighter deaths.

TURBYFILL: What I'm saying is that if you created a better fire shelter or survivable fire shelter product, that you could eliminate 20 to 25 percent of all fatalities, eliminate - not reduce - eliminate.

TONY PETRILLI: High temperature insulation materials are usually heavy, bulky and fragile.

MORALES: The Forest Service's Tony Petrilli is heading up the fire shelter improvement effort. He says the current shelter reflects radiant heat, and he agrees, adding insulation would make a better shield against direct flames.

PETRILLI: A firefighter has to carry this fire shelter along with all their other equipment all day, every day, all summer long.

MORALES: So lightweight materials are a must. And that's something David Trubyfill's fabric is, but it's also a bit bulky. He says with high demand, a manufacturer could improve it, and the proper equipment is essential to the firefighters' safety.

TURBYFILL: They shouldn't have to pay with their lives, regardless of the situations, you know, whether they make a mistake or management makes a mistake, weather makes a mistake - it's not an act of God. We're given intelligence for a reason. We should build a shelter that is fully survivable.

MORALES: Turbyfill says he's reminded of his 27-year-old son Travis every time he looks in the mirror. He says he doesn't want to relive the past, but he believes it's important to bring attention to what he calls a fixable issue. The process to revamp the fire shelter is a complex one. The Forest Service plans to select a new fire shelter after it's been tested in the field during the 2016 fire season. For NPR News, I'm Laurel Morales in Flagstaff.

GREENE: This is NPR News.

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