PRESCOTT, AZ - The city of Prescott on Tuesday denied more than 100 damage claims seeking a total of $662 million for property owners and relatives of firefighters who died in the Yarnell Hill fire in Arizona.
Ninety-one property owners filed claims and 17 others were filed by relatives of Granite Mountain Hotshots who died June 30.
Nineteen members of the elite crew died when winds shifted during the Yarnell Hill Fire and trapped the men in a brush-choked bowl after they left an area already burned.
More than 100 homes were destroyed in Yarnell, northwest of Phoenix.
A Phoenix law firm that represents Prescott sent letters to attorneys representing the property owners and firefighters' relatives, stating that all the claims were without merit and the city "is not liable to claimants because it didn't act intentionally, recklessly or negligently."
The claims are precursors to possible lawsuits. Filing the claims preserves a person's right to sue.
"We look forward to an open, fair trial," said Craig Knapp, a Scottsdale attorney for the 91 homeowners. "We look forward to helping the people of Yarnell find justice.
"Because city personnel played key roles in managing the fight against the Yarnell Hill Fire, their direct employer -- the city of Prescott -- is liable for their negligence in failing to protect Yarnell from destruction," Knapp added. "The city of Prescott knows that but is still denying responsibility."
Lawyers for the firefighters' families and relatives didn't immediately return calls seeking comment.
Tom Kelly, a Prescott attorney for 12 of the families of the firefighters, previously said the deaths were preventable.
Those 12 claims seek more than $220 million plus changes in fire suppression techniques to ensure safety, standards and equipment; a program that would use the deaths as a learning tool for other wildland firefighters; and the funding of annual scholarships for people training to become wildland firefighters.
The claims were filed against various entities, including the state, Yavapai County, Prescott, the Central Yavapai and Yarnell fire districts and the state Public Safety Personnel Retirement System.
The claims allege that firefighting efforts were negligent and reckless, and refer frequently to a workplace safety report that resulted in citations against the State Forestry Division. The report commissioned by the division found communications lapses but did not assign blame.
A subsequent report by the Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health found that the Forestry Division knowingly put protection of property ahead of safety and should have pulled crews out earlier. The state's Industrial Commission levied a nearly $560,000 fine against the Forestry Division, which it is contesting.