Yarnell Residents Appeal Dismissal of Property Damage Lawsuit
Earlier this year, the Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Richard Gama said the state did not have a duty to protect private property owners when the state’s Forestry Division managed the June 2013 Yarnell Hill Fire. We disagree.
On behalf of our clients, about 100 Yarnell area residents who lost their home in the fire, we at Knapp & Roberts filed an appeal on Monday showing that the Forestry Division was negligent in failing to contain and suppress the Yarnell Hill Fire. This resulted in 127 lost homes, including other structures, irreplaceable personal property, and extreme fear and emotional distress for the residents of Yarnell due to a late, inadequate and hasty evacuation.
The trial court accepted the State’s argument that it had no duty of care to Plaintiffs, but we show in the appeal that the State had a duty of care for at least four reasons: (1) a duty of care arose because, by undertaking to protect Yarnell and its people, the State assumed a duty to act in a non-negligent way, (2) the State had a duty of care to contain a fire that had started on the State’s own land, (3) the State had a duty of care as a matter of public policy, and lastly, (4) the State had a duty of care under the abnormally-dangerous-activity doctrine. Each of these reasons are further detailed in our appeal.
Our 65-page appeal also shows that the Yarnell Hill Fire could have been extinguished the first night, but the State negligently determined that the fire had “low spread potential,” and because of that, instructed other safety personnel in the area to stand down in their firefighting efforts unless authorized, allowing the fire to grow unchecked in a dry, windy, fuel-filled area with extreme fire potential and a high fire-spread potential. The next day more mistakes were made, including assigning just 13 firefighters to contain the blaze.
Early in the morning on the third day, a structure-protection-group supervisor concluded the homes were indefensible. Five hours later, the structure-protection-group supervisor added that he had insufficient resources available to perform structure protection. He then did nothing useful to protect Yarnell and its residents. The State still did not warn Yarnell’s residents that their homes were indefensible – until about 14 or 15 hours later when the fire was poised to devastate Yarnell. That afternoon on the third day, the fire reached the edge of the community with no firebreaks, backfires, burnouts, bulldozed clear area, firefighters, firefighting equipment, or effective aerial-retardant and water drops to prevent the fire’s unopposed entry into the defenseless town. It was only then that the State provided an evacuation notice.
In addition to bringing destruction to Yarnell and its residents, the State’s negligence killed 19 of the 20 deployed members of the Granite Mountain Interagency Hotshot Crew. With the exception of one lookout, who himself was nearly cut off from rescue and killed, the deployed hotshot crew members died in the unselfish service of others, including in the unselfish service of Yarnell’s grateful people. If the State had acted competently and not negligently, no member of the hotshot crew would have died – and Yarnell and its people would have escaped devastation.
Let us tell your story
we care, and we can help. Contact us 480-991-7677 or fill out the form below
The personal injury attorneys in Phoenix, Arizona at Knapp & Roberts have the compassion and trial lawyer skills to tell your story to a jury. We will get to know you and your family so that we can help the jury understand what has happened to you and your family and how it has changed your lives. Obtain the compensation necessary for the injuries and losses you have suffered.