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Families sue Arizona over 2013 wildfire that killed 19 firefighters

By David Schwartz

PHOENIX (Reuters) - The families of a dozen of the 19 elite Arizona firefighters killed last year in the nation's worst wildfire in eight decades have filed a wrongful-death lawsuit claiming the state was negligent in its efforts to battle the massive blaze.

The wind-whipped, lightning-caused fire destroyed scores of homes and burned 8,400 acres (1900 hectares) before it was extinguished in an area around the tiny town of Yarnell, northwest of Phoenix. The deadly blaze captured the nation's attention for weeks and marked the greatest loss of life from a U.S. wildfire since 1933.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages for the lives lost in the so-called Yarnell Hill Fire and demands answers to what happened to cause all but one of the Granite Mountain hotshots firefighters to be overrun by flames on June 30.

"They want to know what happened to their loved ones and they want to ensure that this tragedy never happens again," Phoenix attorney Patrick McGroder III, who is representing the families in the lawsuit, told Reuters.

Family members also seek a meeting with state fire officials to see what went wrong and with hopes of developing policies, procedures and other tools to change the way fires are currently fought, according to the suit filed late on Wednesday in Maricopa County Superior Court in Phoenix.

Named as defendants are the state and its forestry division, Yavapai County and the Central Yavapai County Fire District. Also listed are the fire officials who were responsible for managing firefighting efforts in the days leading up to the time when the 19 men were killed.

This is the latest legal action taken in connection with the fallout from the fire, with 162 affected property owners filing a lawsuit this week seeking compensation for their losses.

Owners also said fire officials were to blame for the loss of property and lives in the area, saying that they "failed miserably".

A state official declined to comment on the lawsuit.

(Reporting by David Schwartz; Editing by Eric M. Johnson and Jeremy Laurence)

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