Yarnell Residents Claim Firefighting Negligence Led to Destruction of Homes

Categories: News
yarnell-house-1.jpg
Matthew Hendley
The former location of a home in the Yarnell community of Glen Ilah, months after the fire.


In a precursor to a lawsuit, several residents of Yarnell have filed notices of claim with the Arizona Attorney General's Office, alleging their homes were destroyed due to inept and negligent firefighter management earlier this year.

The notices come from the Scottsdale law firm Knapp & Roberts, the same firm that's already filed a notice of claim on behalf of Marcia McKee, whose 21-year-old son Grant McKee was one of the 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots who died in the Yarnell Hill Fire.

See also:
-Yarnell Hill Fire: Mother of Fallen Hotshot Seeking Millions for Son's Death

From one of the notices of claim, filed on behalf of the homeowners:
The Yarnell Hill Fire destroyed their home, and much of Yarnell, because of negligence, carelessness, and intentional misconduct of Yavapai County, the City of Prescott, the State of Arizona, and the Yarnell Fire District ("liable public entities" or "firefighting managers") -- and because of the negligence, carelessness, and intentional misconduct of their relevant agencies, departments, divisions, officials, employees, and agents.

With reasonable professional planning and coordination of available firefighting resources, the firefighting managers could have prevented Yarnell's obliteration without endangering the Granite Mountain Hotshots or the other firefighters battling the Yarnell Hill Fire.

When the ineptly coordinated firefighting effort eventually made Yarnell's destruction inevitable, the firefighting managers had a duty to arrange for an orderly withdrawal that would have let the departing residents preserve much of their treasured heirlooms, mementos, and other personal property, and that would have changed the last-second, terror-filled, desperate flight for their lives into a calm, orderly, and efficient retreat . . .

This notice of claim also seeks reasonable damages arising from the infliction of emotional distress from the cover-up that the firefighting managers attempted to perpetrate on Claimants -- a cover-up that compounded the terrible emotional pain they had already suffered as a result of the botched firefighting effort.
There are similarly worded notices of claim filed on behalf of six other homeowners, too.

They come on the heels of a $559,000 penalty being assessed against the Arizona State Forestry Division for "serious" safety violations in the Yarnell Hill Fire, after an investigation by the the Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health. Although a report commissioned for the state forestry division several months ago essentially said everything went according to plan, this new report from the state workplace-safety investigators described serious safety violations.

Additionally, supplemental information on the forestry division's investigation that was recently released shows not everything went A-OK, as authorities had alleged.

Much of the notices of claim are focused on the citations in the ADOSH investigation.

The claimants are making various demands for their claims, but, they're all in the neighborhood of about $1 million per entity (so, times four), although most of them propose settlements of around $1 million total, give or take a quarter- or half-million.

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Follow Matthew Hendley on Twitter at @MatthewHendley.



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14 comments
Tess Paul Villa
Tess Paul Villa

No. The firefighters knew what they were getting into when they signed up for the job. They were seasonal firefighters, which means they did NOT have the same benefits as full time firefighters. All this circus after the fact is mind boggling. Yes it was tragic. Fire is unpredictable. They knew that going into it. Let the blame & accusations continue to fly. I'm sick if it!!! No one is to blame but Mother Nature.

Patrick Bohler
Patrick Bohler

Men and women risked, and some gave, their lives trying to save homes. How much more selfish and thankless can people get?

ryzilla
ryzilla

Difficult to prove: obviously there was mismanagement regarding crew deployment, but a ground crew wasn't going to stop that one, and it is doubtful they had adequate air assets (and time / weather to use those) to knock it down before it blew up. It would also bring into question whether the property owners had created and maintained defensible space around their homes.

Jukes
Jukes

Are these homeowners who choose to build in areas that are prone to danger paying any more for fire protection than people who take precautions? 

Chris Yukubousky
Chris Yukubousky

So basically they're blaming dead firefighters that can't tell you what really happened? Classy.

Gregg Myers
Gregg Myers

~ fyi … we think denying firefighter's family life insurance will lead to the destruction of the cushy power-positions of the Yarnell Town Idiots who handed down that unconscionable ruling :)

Archie Bays
Archie Bays

19 people died fighting that particular fire. File with your insurance company, let them be the asshole. That's what you PAY them for.

Juan Declet-Barreto
Juan Declet-Barreto

Those guys didn't have to die to protect property that can be replaced. From reading the New Times reporting, it appears that no lives were at risk. As commendable as their individual and group efforts were, their management seems to have confused the role of forest firefighters with that of city firefighters.

ReggieVV
ReggieVV

Next time don't build in the urban wildlands interface zone, or don't call the fire department. Take whatever nature gives since this was lightning caused. They want their cake and eat it too. Or is it the pot of gold at the end of every wildfire (or whiplash).

ryzilla
ryzilla

@Jukes It depends, I can't speak to Yarnell, but some rural areas residents form Rural Fire Protection districts and fund them. Other areas just take their chances. Having lived in a fire prone urban / wildland interface area in the past, I can tell you a well run RFPD will go a long way to help preventing property damage: they know the area, can respond fast enough to keep small fires small, and most importantly can educate and assist property owners to create defensible space around their homes.

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