Mother of Fallen Yarnell Hill Firefighter Files Claim Seeking $36 Million

PHOTO: Grant McKee and 18 of his fellow crewmembers died in the Yarnell Hill Fire in Glenn Ilah near Yarnell, Ariz. on June 30, 2013.
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The mother of firefighter who died while battling the Yarnell Hill blaze on June 30, intends to sue state and local authorities for negligence and attempting to "whitewash" an investigation into the deaths of the crew.

Marcia McKee filed a notice of claim on Friday against the state of Arizona, City of Prescott and Yavapai County seeking $12 million from each for negligent and careless actions that led to the death of her son, Grant, who was 21 when he perished alongside 18 members of his Granite Mountain Hotshots crew.

In the claim, a precursor to a lawsuit, McKee says she suffered tremendously when her "best friend" and only son was taken away.

"It's not supposed to be like this," she wrote. "No more Mother's Day cards or phone calls. Nor will I ever get to see him walk down the aisle or be called grandma. My life was also taken that day because he was my life."

McKee, who lives in Newport Beach, Calif., says in the notice that her son's death was "preventable," but that authorities violated all 10 of the mandatory Standard Firefighting Orders, designed to avoid firefighter injuries and deaths. She accused 13 individuals and entities named in the claim of failing to provide adequate equipment or maintain consistent or proper communications with the crew.

The claim also says the "Yarnell Hill Fire Report," which summarized conclusions of a three-month investigation into the firefighters' deaths, was "a blame-avoiding, muddled, and untrustworthy cover-up."

"As far as constructing a logical, accurate sequence of events, the Yarnell Hill Fire Report is almost useless," the claim says.

The roughly 120-page report commissioned by the Arizona State Forestry Division detailed the exact conditions that fueled the fire, which included erratic and gusting winds, triple-digit temperatures and extreme drought.

It also detailed that some radios were not equipped with appropraite tone guards, "radio traffic was heavy" and there was a 30-minute gap in communications shortly before a raging inferno overwhelmed the men.

The blaze was the deadliest for firefighters since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, destroyed more than 100 homes and spread across 13 square miles before it was fully contained 10 days later.

Only one of the 20-member Granite Mountains crew survived the fire that was sparked by lightning from thunder storms brewing over the area on June 28. He had become separated from his team members earlier that day.

It remains unknown exactly why the other firefighters left the rim and descended into the dry brush-filled canyon, quickly becoming trapped by a blistering inferno that split boulders and torched surrounding trees, the report said.

The men were travelling through unburned territory toward a safety zone when shifting winds provoked a 90-degree direction change in the movement of the fire and the flames, which quickly spread across chaparral shrubs and dry grass, cutting off their escape route.

The fire crew, all aged from 21 to 43 years old, only had two minutes to improvise a shelter site using chain saws and burning out.

They deployed personal tent-like emergency shields in a last-resort bid to survive, but the fire, which burned rapidly, moving 10 to 12 miles an hour and at temperatures up to 200 degrees Farenheit, swept through the area and made direct flame contact with the site.

The firefighters' bodies were recovered shortly after the fire subsided.

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