News Release: Florida Department of Agriculture
August 20, 2014
TALLAHASSEE, FL – State Forester Jim Karels was recognized by the Florida Cabinet today, in appreciation for his leadership during the investigation into the deaths of 19 firefighters in the Yarnell Hill Fire in Arizona in 2013.
“Jim demonstrated true leadership in lending his expertise and experience to the investigation of the fire that killed 19 fellow firefighters in Arizona last year,” said Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam H. Putnam. “The lessons learned from his investigation can be implemented in Florida and across the country to help keep our firefighters safe from harm.”
The recognition came from the Yarnell Hill Fire Serious Accident Investigation Team, who presented Karels with a plaque thanking him for his leadership on the difficult assignment.
“Jim provided strong leadership by making the tough decisions that had to be made,” said Richa Wilson, Architectural Historian for the U.S. Forest Service. “His work furthered learning through the wildland firefighter community for the next generation.”
On June 30, 2013, a wildfire in Yarnell, Arizona, northwest of Phoenix, claimed the lives of 19 wildland firefighters. It was the deadliest day for U.S. firefighters since Sept. 11, 2001, and the deadliest wildfire since 1933. Karels led the multi-agency team that conducted the independent investigation.
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 is the past Chair of the Southern Group of State Foresters and the incoming President of the National Association of State Foresters. 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.
The Florida Forest Service manages more than 1 million acres of public forest land while protecting 26 million acres of homes, forestland and natural resources from the devastating effects of wildfire.