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Another Yarnell Hill firefighter widow to receive survivor benefits

(AP Photo)

PHOENIX — The city of Prescott will award survivor benefits to another widow of an elite wildland firefighter who died three years ago.

The northern Arizona city’s Public Safety Retirement Board reviewed and approved the benefits claim made by Marsena Thurston. Her husband was Granite Mountain Hotshot Joe Thurston.

Thurston, 32, was one of 19 firefighters who died in the Yarnell Hill Fire on June 30, 2013.

The elite Granite Mountain Hotshots were trained to confront wildfires head-on and prevent their spread but they had also been considered seasonal employees in the months after their deaths.

The city originally paid only partial benefits to some of the families.

The families fought for the benefits, going public with the dispute. Eventually Prescott’s retirement board awarded enhanced benefits to 12. The group also settled a lawsuit with the state.

Last week, the board said Joe Thurston met all criteria for survivor benefits under the Public Safety Personnel Retirement System.

The criteria were the same as those applied during previous hearings where survivor benefits were awarded to three other wildland firefighters who died in the Yarnell blaze.

Only one crew member survived, Brendan McDonough. The then-21-year-old was a half-mile away from the blaze, acting as lookout.

It was the sixth-deadliest firefighter disaster in the United States and worst in Arizona.

Benefits will be awarded retroactive to June 2013.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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