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Jun-28-2014 05:55printcomments

Families of 12 Arizona Hotshots Killed in Wildfire Sue State

The suit also seeks a definitive answer on what went wrong in the nation's worst wildfire in eight decades.

Granite Hill Hotshots
The families of a dozen of the 19 Arizona firefighters killed last year in the Yarnell Hill Fire have filed wrongful death suits against the state. Photo Courtesy: Granite Hill Hotshots

(PHOENIX, Ariz. ) - The families of a dozen of the 19 Arizona firefighters killed last year in the Yarnell Hill Fire have filed wrongful death suits against the state.

A lawsuit filed this week seeks unspecified damages for funeral costs, pain and suffering, and lost income in the deaths of the Granite Hill Hotshots. It also seeks a definitive answer on what went wrong in the nation's worst wildfire in eight decades in hopes of developing policies, procedures and other tools to change the way fires are fought.

"The families want to ensure they understand clearly what happened, why it happened and to ensure that whatever needs to be done now or in the future to avoid tragedies like this is indeed done," Pat McGroder, an attorney for the families, said Thursday.

The families had notified the state, Yavapai County and the Central Yavapai Fire District of a possible lawsuit in December, offering to settle for more than $220 million.

McGroder said the state rebuffed efforts by the families to talk openly and honestly about the fire that trapped the Hotshots in a brush-choked canyon outside Yarnell, destroyed 127 homes and scorched 13 square miles.

The defendants named in the lawsuit either declined comment Thursday or did not immediately respond to requests for comment. An attorney for the Central Yavapai Fire District, Nick Cornelius, said in December that he didn't believe there is a basis for claims against the agency or its staff.

The deadline to file a lawsuit was Monday, the one-year anniversary of the firefighters' deaths. Earlier this week, more than 160 property owners in and around Yarnell sued the state, saying it failed miserably in its management of the lightning-sparked blaze.

A report by the Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health reached that conclusion in a report on the wildfire. An earlier investigation commissioned by the Arizona State Forestry Division found that state fire officials communicated poorly but followed proper procedures when the Hotshots were killed.

The families' lawsuit contends that fire managers didn't act quickly enough to extinguish the blaze, failed to have adequate air resources and staff on hand, didn't make the safety of firefighters a top priority and did not alert the Hotshots to the erratic fire behavior and wind that day.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed in Maricopa County Superior Court include widows and fathers of 12 of the 19 Hotshots. They are: Juliann Ashcraft, Claire Caldwell, Krista Carter, Michael Mackenzie, Grant McKee, Daniel Parker, John Percin, Desiree Steed, Stephanie Turbyfill, Roxanne Warneke, Carl Whitted and Joseph Woyjeck.

Source: Weather.com




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John Anderson June 28, 2014 12:22 pm (Pacific time)

I have just finished reading "Young Men & Fire" which is the story of the deaths of 13 smokejumpers in the 1949 Mann Gulch Fire in Montana. The book was given to me to read by my 4th son who is a member of a hotshot crew in California. He is 24 and works only during the fire season. There were 3 survivors of the Mann Gulch Fire so a more complete investigation of that tragedy was possible. The conclusions of the investigators eventually resulted in a more scientific approach to firefighting and a much greater emphasis on crew safety. Many procedures were changed and the author noted that since then there had never been a large scale loss of life by smokejumpers. The book was published in 1992 and that conclusion is now sadly out of date. What appears common to both fires is that there was a communication breakdown at the command level and that a crew was ordered into a canyon in the path of an unpredictable fire that rapidly changed direction. In both cases the initial assessment of the fires was that they were not threatening and would soon be put out.

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