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Wrongful deaths suits filed after tragic Arizona wildfire

Tragedy struck central Arizona last June when an out of control wildfire claimed the lives of 19 firefighters and caused millions of dollars in property damage. In the wake of the devastating fire, dozens of families have filed wrongful death lawsuits against the government and fire officials.

In the lawsuits, which seek more than $300 million in damages, families of the perished firefighters argue that “negligence, carelessness and intentional misconduct” on behalf of those in charge contributed to the loss of their loved ones.

The firefighters were members of an elite squad called the Granite Mountain Hotshots, which was called in to fight the blaze that spread over 8,000 acres in almost two weeks. All but one of the 20 Hotshots were killed after being trapped in a wall of flames caused by changing winds.

The families will likely use a report by the Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health to support their claims. The report concluded that a lack of communication and other mistakes likely contributed to the deaths.

The report found that the firefighters should have been evacuated from the area when it was evident that a thunderstorm with strong winds was moving in dangerously close to the area.

Another report by the Arizona Industrial Commission also concluded that errors were committed, and the commission assessed a citation and fine of $559,000 against state forestry officials. The citation is being appealed by the Arizona State Forestry Division.

An attorney representing the families of the firefighters said his clients hope their claims prevent a similar tragedy from occurring in the future.

While wrongful death lawsuits are intended to compensate family members for the losses they suffered, the lawsuits also serve as motivation to prevent similar acts of negligence or carelessness from happening again, as the families in this case have suggested.

Source: NBC News, “Lawsuits mount against Arizona officials after fatal Yarnell Hill wildfire,” Erik Ortiz, Dec. 24, 2013

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