Court Ruling: Arizona Does Not Have Legal Duty To Protect Property From Wildfires
A court ruling Thursday said Arizona does not have a legal duty to protect property from wildfires.
The ruling upheld a dismissal of lawsuits filed by homeowners whose property was destroyed by the 2013 Yarnell Hill Fire.
The trial judge and the Court of Appeals agreed with the state's argument that it didn't have a duty to protect property when it undertook management of the wildfire.
The Arizona Court of Appeals said that if the state's firefighting efforts included a duty to protect private property, the state would be required to act as an insurer, which is not in the best interest of the public.
Homeowners said the state negligently managed firefighting efforts, failed to protect Yarnell and failed to provide a timely evacuation notice.
Attorneys representing the homeowners argued the Forestry Division botched the job. Charles Knapp was one of them.
"What the Court of Appeals overlooked was clear evidence that the state had voluntarily undertaken tasks specifically intended to protect not just the town of Yarnell but its residents," Knapp said.
Knapp said the Yarnell homeowners will ask the Court of Appeals to reconsider its ruling and, if necessary, appeal to the Arizona Supreme Court.
The fire, which started with a lightning strike on state land, destroyed more than 120 homes and killed 19 firefighters.