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Updated Dec 31, 2013 - 1:35 pm

Claims from Yarnell Hill Fire reach $662M

PRESCOTT, Ariz. -- PRESCOTT, Ariz. (AP)- With a surge of additional filings, more than 100 damage claims seeking a total of $662 million have been filed by property owners and relatives of firefighters who died in the Yarnell Hill fire.

The Daily Courier reported that 91 property owners have filed claims and that 17 additional claims have been filed by relatives of Granite Mountain Hotshots who perished June 30.

Nineteen members of the Hotshot 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 the area northwest of Phoenix.

The claims are precursors to possible lawsuits. Filing the claims preserves a person's right to sue.

Arizona law gives claimants 180 days from the "cause of action" to file a notice of claim, and many of the claims were filed last week as the deadline approached.

The latest claims included three by relatives of firefighters and 43 by property owners.

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.

Filed by at least four law firms, the claims alleged that firefighting efforts were negligent and reckless, and they refer frequently to a workplace safety report that resulted in citations against the State Forestry Division. The division is contesting the citations.

While state officials have declined to comment on the claims, Prescott has rejected several claims, saying the city is not liable for the deaths or property losses.

Chief Civil Deputy County Attorney Jack Fields said Monday that the county claims were still under review by his department and the Arizona Counties Insurance Pool.

Key state House members have said the families' claims will likely sidetrack an effort in the Legislature to even out the full-time and part-time survivor benefits. The families of part-time firefighters received far fewer benefits than those of full-time firefighers.

"Clearly, I think now with all the lawsuits going on ... we have to wait for any action on benefits," House Speaker Tobin recently told The Associated Press.

State law gives claimants 180 days from the "cause of action" to file a notice of claim.

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