FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — Dozens of property owners in central Arizona are suing the state, saying it failed miserably in its management of a wildfire that killed 19 Hotshots.
The lawsuit filed in Maricopa County Superior Court seeks unspecified damages for emotional distress, property loss and loss of income. The more than 160 plaintiffs also are seeking protections for firefighters such as the 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots who were overrun by flames while battling the Yarnell Hill Fire on June 30, 2013.
The lawsuit comes a week before the one-year anniversary of their deaths. The lightning-sparked wildfire destroyed 127 homes in and around Yarnell and scorched 13 square miles before it was fully contained on July 10.
Craig Knapp, the attorney representing property owners in Yarnell, said the lawsuit seeks to get the state to “implement changes to keep communities safe when there’s a fire and move quickly and competently when they have notice a wildfire has started.”
“There was ample time, and they had the resources to put the fire out when it started, and they didn’t,” Knapp said.
The state and the Arizona State Forestry Division are named as defendants. A spokesman for Gov. Jan Brewer said Tuesday that the state would not comment on pending litigation.
The lawsuit was expected. Property owners and families of Granite Mountain Hotshots had put the state on notice earlier this year that they intended to sue.
The complaint relies partly on a report from the Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health to bolster claims that the Forestry Division was negligent in its handling of the fire, air resources, the crews assigned to the blaze and the evacuation of hundreds of residents. The Forestry Division is contesting the citations and nearly $560,000 in fines.
The emotional harm and distress of people who lost their homes and other structures, as well as irreplaceable treasures, were worsened by the firefighters’ deaths, the lawsuit contends.
“They can never forget that 19 brave men died trying to protect Yarnell and its people,” the lawsuit reads.
The plaintiffs are demanding a jury trial to determine exact damages that had been estimated at millions of dollars. They also want to ensure that Hotshots receive state benefits afforded to full-time firefighters, GPS devices for fire crews and better fire shelters. The Granite Mountain Hotshots deployed their fire shelters in a brush-choked canyon in a last-ditch effort to save themselves.