By John Dougherty
The families of 12 of the Granite Mountain Hotshots killed on June 30 in the Yarnell Hill Fire today filed notice of claims with the city of Prescott, Central Yavapai County Fire District, the Arizona Forestry Division, Yavapai County and four fire commanders seeking $237.5 million in damages.
Prescott attorney Thomas Kelly, who once served as assistant superintendent of the Prescott Hotshots, filed the claims on behalf of the families that includes several of the crew’s most experienced members including Granite Mountain Hotshot Captain Jesse Steed.
The claims name four fire commanders who were working under the state’s direction on June 30: Roy Hall, incident commander, Arizona State Forestry Division; Russ Shumate, incident commander, Arizona State Forestry Division; Todd Abel, field operations chief, Central Yavapai Fire District; and Darrell Willis, Wildlands Division Chief, Prescott Fire Department.
The families of the following Granite Mountain Hotshots filed the claims:
The amount of damages sought varies depending on the number of survivors and ranges from $50 million for Ashcraft who leaves a wife and four children to $5 million on behalf of McKee’s father.
The claimants also seek non-monetary damages “from those who caused this travesty…so that history will not repeat itself.” The compensation sought includes:
- Adopting necessary policy, procedural and protocol changes in state and local government fire suppression agencies to ensure the safety of firefighters during future wildland fires in Arizona.
- Adopting, incorporating, and funding specific safety standards and equipment to enhance the protection of wildland firefighters during future wildland fire suppression efforts in Arizona.
- Developing and funding an educational program with its curriculum outlining the environmental and human factors causing the death of the Granite Mountain Hotshot Crew on the Yarnell Hill Fire and further, provide adequate funding for its presentation to current and future wildland firefighters in Arizona on a yearly basis.
- Funding annual scholarships for individuals in need of financial assistance to undergo wildland fire suppression training and education in the name of claimants’ decedents and their fallen colleagues.
The claims are identical except for the personal descriptions of each hotshot and his family relationships. The claims list 31 “willful, reckless, negligent and careless acts” that contributed to the “wrongful” deaths of the 19 hotshots.
The claims state that families “will participate in good faith mediation to explore alternative compensation models, including non-monetary compensation to settle all claims resulting from the intentional, willful, reckless, careless and negligent acts of the City of Prescott, Yavapai County, Central Yavapai Fire District and State of Arizona.”
The alleged negligent acts cover the period from the start of the fire at about 5:30 p.m., Friday, June 28 through about an hour leading up to the fatal entrapment when an airborne supervisor “left the fire without explanation” and did not provide the location of the Granite Mountain Hotshots to another airborne supervisor who was just arriving on the scene.
The Granite Mountain Hotshots left a burned-over safe zone on a mountain ridge above the town of Yarnell sometime after 4 p.m. as a powerful thunderstorm approached from the northeast and the fire was moving towards the high-desert town. The crew descended into a chaparral-choked box canyon where the 19 men were entrapped at about 4:45 p.m. by a rapidly approaching 2,000-degree firestorm.© Copyright 2013 John Dougherty, All rights Reserved. Written For: Investigative MEDIA