Residents Left Homeless By Yarnell Fire Cannot Sue State

By Holliday Moore
Howard Fischer
Published: Monday, October 30, 2017 - 8:40am
Updated: Monday, October 30, 2017 - 9:20am

Arizona’s highest court will not let homeowners, who were burned out of their home by the Yarnell Hill fire, sue the state for negligence.

Without comment, the State Supreme Court rejected requests by the lawyers representing some of the 120 homeowners burned out of their houses.

Attorney David Abney had hoped to argue before a jury that the state was highly negligent and, because the fire started on public land, it was responsible for preventing it from spreading to nearby properties. 

He claimed when fire officials announced they were making an effort to protect lives and property, they became legally bound to help residents evacuate without negligence. 

Had they warned residents they were on their own he said, "They could have gotten their personal possessions out, their pets and livestock out. They could have removed propane tanks, which blew up in the fire. They could have removed their excess vehicles. They could have done emergency brush removal."

An investigation by the state Industrial Commission found that, at the time of the fire, the state Forestry Division had vacancies in the positions of both safety officer and the planning section chief. The commission’s lead investigator said that meant no one was available to pay attention to the fire fighters’ safety versus battling the blaze.

The case never made it to a jury. 

An appellate judge wrote Abney’s argument was legally irrelevant and that anything the state forester did was within his discretion to best protect state lands and not designed to benefit and protect the property of the residents.

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