First “notice of claim” filed in Yarnell Hill Fire deaths


The mother of Granite Mountain Hotshot Grant McKee who was killed with 18 other members of the Prescott, AZ-based crew in the June 30 Yarnell Hill Fire has filed a notice of claim against Yavapai County, Prescott and the state of Arizona seeking $12 million in damages.

“With the exercise of reasonable care, Grant’s death was preventable,” states the Nov. 14 notice filed by the Scottsdale, AZ law firm of Knapp & Roberts. “In fact, with the exercise of reasonable care, no member of the Granite Mountain Interagency Hotshot Crew would have died on June 30, 2013.

“Grant McKee, and 18 of his fellow crewmembers, died because the City of Prescott, Yavapai County, and the State of Arizona (the “liable public entities”) violated all 10 of the nationally recognized Standard Firefighting Orders.”

The 16-page claim is available here.

© Copyright 2013 John Dougherty, All rights Reserved. Written For: Investigative MEDIA


  1. Bob Powers says

    The best way to answer your question Calvin is the Forest FMO’s and assistants in the 60’s,70’s and 80’s worked their way up the ladder and were one and all wild land fire fighters, It has changed since then a few are still good but equal opportunity and collage requirements changed that. Yes on Initial Attack and an occasional large fire we worked for our supervisor. I never had a problem.

  2. calvin says

    Mr. Wrench, I have a question if you wouldn’t mind answering. As a former USFS superintendent who did you report to directly? The reason I am asking is because this appears to me (and I may be way off) to be a little different than the situation Granite Mountain had. GM was employed by Prescott and Eric Marsh reported directly to Darrell Willis. Was it common for your immediate superior to be on a fire with you? And if so, would you report to this person on the fire? It has been well established that there was some intermixing between structure and Wildlands efforts at PFD. I think a prime example is that Darrell Willis was supervising structure protection June 30.

    • Rod Wrench says

      Calvin, I know what your saying but as a Hot Shot Sup. & also as a District Suppression Assit. (ADFMO) I worked on many District & Forest wildfires, large & small, for my immediate supervisor, the DFMO. As a DFMO I had the Vista Grande HS Sup. who reported directly to me on a daily basis and he also was supervised by me on many fires and of course this was in SoCal, where there are a lot of Hot Shot crews & fires. If there is a good working relationship, respect & trust between the two any difference of opinion concerning a firefighting tactic or assignment is worked out and mutually agreed upon. I can not think of any tactical disagreements all of us ever had. However, it does help when your supervisor has had good qualifying experience, similar to yours, in a number of fire management positions, ie: Hot Shot experience, etc. I do not believe that occurs or is the case in most local departments and is fast disappearing in the Forest Service. But a module leader in the FS has the right and the obligation to his crews to question or refuse an fire line assignment or order that he/she deems unsafe no matter who give it to them, even if it’s the Chief of the FS himself, with a reason and possible alternatives. You just don’t say “no, I’m not going to do it”. The module leader then with the responsibility & authority must carry out the assignment in a safe, logical, proper & aggressive way. Unless the GM order to move was given on a cell phone and not the agency radio, we will never know!!

  3. Rod Wrench says

    The fire was not suppressed the first night like it should been, the second day was a Keystone Cop response & Marsh/Steed took the crew from a safe location into the green in front of the fire, even after being notified of the weather forecast & telling OPs they were in a safe location. And even if told to move, Marsh had the final say as the Division Supervisor & crew superintendent. He and only he was responsible for the welfare & safety of the GM crew.

      • Rod Wrench says

        If not, Marsh choose the route into the green & not down the ridge the way the 2 civilians took. Anyway, he still made the final fatal decision. As a former USFS Hot Shot Superintendent we had a duty to our crew to refuse unsafe assignments & we did, no matter who told us. Every Superintendent I know has had to do it even though it is not a common thing, it’s needed.

        • says

          I wanted to take a path a little bit pass where the 19 men went down. Another type of canyon that was on state land yet would of ended at the cattle pond near the boulderous spot near the Helms place going down and out by McNary’s place on Foothill but Sonny stated the danger in that path and that is was very important I listen to him so I do not roast- that was at 1:10pm that Sonny saw that fire in that way when he came back for me. You see he left at 12:38pm and when he finally came back he only came back because our bs moments involving the new world and the laws out there that not even a lawyer and judge knows them all but they are out there and Sonny was afraid if I roasted my way he would be in jail for abandoning me. He than handed his stick and pulled me up and we went a more strenuous steep huge boulder way but the key in it all if you look at the way we went; less fuel and it did not get any retardant and it burnt out on its own. The way we went from the mountain top did not look like the BEST way as far as the boulders we slid down were 14feet high and so it was not like one would say “yeah that is the way I want to go” but indeed my concern is the communication and why they left the helispot area and the burnt area and head to the most dense mazed-like manzanita area (green)…than I think “hey, that is the same way I went”…why did I go that way because it leads you out safer than the Shrine or Sesame because that area was already in danger than why did I not go down where they perished- the same reason I did not go up it that morning; maze-like vegetation and the angle of steepness and I know because I hiked it before many times it is a slow-going travelling area. The only reason I went Sonny’s way was he was so darn persistent it was THE WAY for he has fought many of forest fires him and his father that were created by lightning strikes. I did not want to go that way but had I went my way- it was time consuming too like the Helms but further on in distance than that area and I had a narrow trail I could of went down yet all experts agree with Sonny and my way would have the tunnel affect as the box canyon so I am glad I was not too stubborn and went his way.

  4. Rocksteady says

    The first of many….and rightly so….I do NOT believe the crew took that route on their own accord….no reasonably experienced firefighter would…..I think they were ORDERED to move….. Whomever told them to move has to be taken to task, and the agency they were working for can pay the tab….

    All of those 19 hotshots families are now down to 1 or even no income, due to someones negligence…. “You call the play, You gotta pay.”

  5. Bob Powers says

    Using the 10 Standard Orders is the absolute way to get the answers . So the invest. team should have just used them anyway. Let the cards fall where they will. God rest their soles may we find the truth for the families.

  6. Tex (Sonny) Gilligan says

    we have been focused on getting facts out and there is a full investigation on this outside the standard ones- it is important for the lawyer of this case to be patient and WAIT because facts and sources and documents take time yet we the last civilian hikers will assist any way in helping not only this case but any case if it is for the betterment to change protocol of regulations to save lives and not for the gain of funds—it is heart-wrenching the fact these people faced this loss on an avoidable situation and we weep each time we take people on the hike- we are sorry for your losses-

    • calvin says

      In a phone interview with The Arizona Republic, Marcia McKee said she filed the claim to learn the truth about what happened in the fire.

      “There is no good answer right now,” McKee said. “Nobody should have to go through this. No family should have to go through this. But it’s the only way to get answers.”
      USA TODAY November 16

      I am glad to see these statements from the start. I believe the truth can and will be determined. Stay strong!

  7. NV says

    Normally I’m not a big fan of these kind of lawsuits. But, in this case, with the whitewash of the SAIR and a desire by many in positions of authority to not simply move on with no lessons learned, but to teach negative lessons from this, these lawsuits may be very needed. All the more so to get those cell phone records checked thoroughly.

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