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Relatives of firefighters killed in wildfire file claims

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  • Relatives of firefighters killed in wildfire file claims

    YAKIMA, Wash. (AP) - Families of four firefighters who perished
    in the Thirtymile fire and two campers who survived the 2001 blaze
    have taken the first steps toward suing the U.S. Forest Service.
    Relatives of the firefighters have demanded government
    compensation for the wrongful deaths, citing reports that detail
    mistakes made as the Forest Service fought the fire.
    The campers, Bruce and Paula Hagemeyer of Thorp, also want the
    federal agency to pay for Thirtymile mistakes.
    The deadline to file the claims is Thursday, the second
    anniversary of the fire in the Methow Valley.
    "It has a lot to do with drawing attention to this problem,"
    Bruce Hagemeyer said.
    The Hagemeyers' claim focuses on burns they suffered in the fire
    and ensuing lost wages and emotional distress.
    The agency, which employed all four firefighters, refused to
    comment on the claims, which seek unspecified amounts of money.
    Tom Craven of Ellensburg and Yakima firefighters Devin Weaver,
    Karen FitzPatrick and Jessica Johnson died in the Chewuch River
    Canyon north of Winthrop on July 10, 2001.
    Craven's wife, Evelyn, filed the first damage claim in February.
    The rest of the claims were sent to the Forest Service's Portland,
    Ore., regional office this week.
    The agency confirmed Tuesday the claims have been received, but
    wouldn't respond to other questions.
    "It's just a legal matter, and we don't comment on legal
    matters," said agency spokeswoman Patty Burel.
    The families of the firefighters may find it difficult to get
    the government to pay.
    Mariano Morales, a Yakima lawyer who represents the families of
    Johnson and FitzPatrick, said the government is generally immune
    from lawsuits filed by employees.
    However, Morales said the level of negligence involved in the
    deaths could open the government to liability in court.
    "We think we have grounds to make that argument," Morales
    said.
    Morales, a former Forest Service firefighter, said the agency
    has six months to respond to the claims, after which lawsuits can
    be filed in federal court.
    At Thirtymile, commanders broke all 10 of the agency's standard
    safety rules, investigations found. In the end, the mistakes left
    firefighters cut off from their only escape route in a dead-end
    canyon with fire fast approaching.
    A Yakima Herald-Republic investigation found crucial mistakes
    were made by a number of Forest Service firefighters, from the
    incident commander on the scene to forest managers who ignored the
    safety of fellow employees and the public.
    Devin's father, Ken Weaver of Yakima, said his claim is not
    about the money.
    "It's about getting these people to pay attention," he said.

    (Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
    Proudly serving as the IACOJ Minister of Information & Propoganda!
    Be Safe! Lookouts-Awareness-Communications-Escape Routes-Safety Zones

    *Gathering Crust Since 1968*
    On the web at www.section2wildfire.com

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