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Lawsuits mount after Arizona wildfire in June

PRESCOTT, Ariz., Dec. 25 (UPI) -- Lawsuits seeking hundreds of millions of dollars have been filed against state and local agencies after a June wildfire in Arizona that killed 19 firefighters.

Homeowners claim that "negligence, carelessness and intentional misconduct" contributed to their losses as the Yarnell Hill fire ravaged over 8,000 acres and damaged or destroyed more than 100 buildings, NBC News reported Wednesday. Nineteen firefighters with the Granite Mountain Hotshots died when they were trapped by a wall of flames.

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Fourteen families have filed wrongful-death claims seeking over $300 million, NBC News said.

More than 50 property-owner claims, totaling $184 million in damages have also been filed, the (Prescott, Ariz.) Daily Courier reported.

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The plaintiffs named the city of Prescott, the state of Arizona, Yavapai County and the Yarnell Fire District among the defendants.

A report on the deaths of the firefighters, commissioned by the Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health, noted a lack of key personnel and poor communication, and a determination the firefighters should have been removed from the scene before a thunderstorm and its winds brought the flames perilously close.

The Arizona Industrial Commission cited state forestry officials and levied a $559,000 fine based on the report, although an earlier report found no negligence or violation of protocols, NBC News said.

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The mounting lawsuits have had an unintended consequence. Arizona lawmakers have halted plans to financially help families of the firefighters killed in the fire.

"No one is going to abandon firefighters, but the question becomes a matter of need. If they're able to get adequate compensation through the courts, the issue will be resolved," said Republican state Rep. John Kavanagh, who chairs the state House Appropriations Committee.

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