More Ariz. firefighters' families file claims

Posted: Updated:
By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) -- The families of a dozen Granite Mountain Hotshots have joined the list of people accusing public agencies of recklessness and negligence in the handling of a deadly Arizona wildfire and pursuing financial settlements.

The 12 claims filed Thursday seek more than $220 million from the state of Arizona, the city of Prescott, Yavapai County and the Central Yavapai Fire District. The mother of firefighter Grant McKee was the first to file a financial claim, and more than 30 property owners in Yarnell have followed.

An attorney for the 12 families, Tom Kelly, said that the men's deaths were preventable and the families want to ensure "this type of tragedy does not happen again."

Nineteen of the Hotshots died June 30 when winds shifted on the Yarnell Hill Fire and trapped the men in a brush-choked bowl. More than 100 homes in Yarnell, northwest of Phoenix were destroyed.

A report commissioned by the Arizona State Forestry Division found communications lapses but did not assign blame. A subsequent report by the Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health found that the Forestry Division knowingly put protection of property ahead of safety and should have pulled crews out earlier. The state's Industrial Commission levied a nearly $560,000 fine against the Forestry Division, which it is contesting.

Nick Cornelius, an attorney for the Central Yavapai Fire District, said the agency has not been served with a copy of the latest claims. But he said "based on our review of the matter to date, we don't believe that there is a basis for claims against the agency or its staff."

The city of Prescott has said it's not liable for the deaths or property loss and denied claims previously filed.

The Yavapai County Attorney's Office did not immediately respond to a message Thursday. A spokesman for Gov. Jan Brewer declined comment.

Kelly filed the claims on the day William Warneke's daughter, Billie Grace, was born. The amount of money each claimant is seeking depends on the relationship to the firefighter. Wives are asking for $10,000 each, parents for $5,000 each and children $7,500 apiece.

Kelly said each of them appreciates the financial and emotional support that poured in from across the country.

In addition to money, the claims seek changes in fire suppression techniques to ensure firefighters' safety, specific safety standards and equipment, a program that would use the Hotshots' deaths as a learning tool for other wildland firefighters and the funding of annual scholarships for those training to become wildland firefighters.

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