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Families of Hotshot crew killed fighting Arizona fire to get generous payouts

David Kadlubowski / The Arizona Republic via AP

The Yarnell Hill Fire killed 19 firefighters and burned 129 structures before it was contained.

The families of each of the 19 members of the elite Hotshot crew killed fighting an Arizona wildfire last month are likely to receive a half-million dollars or more in government benefits and private donations, union and charity officials said.

Tim Hill, president of the Professional Fire Fighters of Arizona union, told NBC station KPNX of Phoenix that about $2 million had been donated to a relief fund for the families through the Phoenix and Prescott firefighters unions so far.

"Every penny of that will go directly to the families," evenly divided 19 ways, Hill said, adding: "We don't believe we're set up to make judgments on who gets what." 

More money is pouring in, so the final payouts will likely be larger, but the money raised so far will provide the immediate families of each of the 19 members of the Granite Mountain Interagency Hotshot Crew who died June 30 battling the Yarnell Hill Fire with a minimum of $105,000.

And under the U.S. Justice Department's Public Safety Officers' Benefits Programs for law enforcement and fire officers injured or killed in the line of duty, each family is separately eligible for a lump sum payment set by law — which is $328,612.73 this year.

Combined, the initiatives all but guarantee each family a minimum of $433,000 — more for the families of the six firefighters who were full-time employees. 

That doesn't include worker's compensation, which The Arizona Republic reported will yield a maximum benefit of $2,792 a month. And it doesn't include the proportion of other fundraising drives for recovery from the Yarnell Hill Fire that donors are earmarking for the firefighters' families. 

Those initiatives have raised another $2 million, said Hill of the firefighters union and Jacky Alling, chief philanthropic officer of the Arizona Community Foundation.

"This is a marathon, not a sprint, and so there are going to be needs that need to be met further down the road," Alling told KPNX. "I think this one does trump all of the other disasters that we've unfortunately had to address in the past."

The fire began with a lightning strike outside the town of Yarnell, about 50 miles northwest of Phoenix, on June 28 and rapidly grew into an inferno, the Arizona State Forestry Division said in a report this week. The report didn't address why the interagency Hotshot crew was still on the scene for more than an hour after the winds shifted the fire back toward them on June 30.

Related: Officials initially thought some firefighters killed in Arizona blaze made it out alive

The 19 crew members were found dead less than two hours after they radioed that they were trapped.

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Mike Blake / Reuters

Nineteen firefighters — all members of an elite response team — were killed June 30 battling a fast-moving wildfire in Arizona, marking the deadliest single incident for firefighters since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.