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Federal government says no to aid for Arizona fire that killed 19 firefighters

By Ben Brumfield, CNN
updated 1:08 PM EDT, Mon August 12, 2013
Nineteen firefighters, part of an elite group called the Hotshots, died while battling a wildfire about 85 miles northwest of Phoenix on Sunday, June 30. Here are the 19 victims: Andrew Ashcraft, 29. Nineteen firefighters, part of an elite group called the Hotshots, died while battling a wildfire about 85 miles northwest of Phoenix on Sunday, June 30. Here are the 19 victims: Andrew Ashcraft, 29.
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The Arizona firefighter victims
The Arizona firefighter victims
The Arizona firefighter victims
The Arizona firefighter victims
The Arizona firefighter victims
The Arizona firefighter victims
The Arizona firefighter victims
The Arizona firefighter victims
The Arizona firefighter victims
The Arizona firefighter victims
The Arizona firefighter victims
The Arizona firefighter victims
The Arizona firefighter victims
The Arizona firefighter victims
The Arizona firefighter victims
The Arizona firefighter victims
The Arizona firefighter victims
The Arizona firefighter victims
The Arizona firefighter victims
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Arizona's top politicians blast the Obama administration over the denial
  • The Yarnell Hill blaze killed 19 firefighters, called "hotshots," in June
  • FEMA says it based its decision on insurance rules; it is not allowed to duplicate private benefits
  • Republican Gov. Jan Brewer criticizes the Obama administration

(CNN) -- Arizona's top politicians blasted the Obama administration and federal officials over the denial of aid in the wake of the state's deadly wildfire.

The Yarnell Hill blaze killed 19 firefighters, called "hotshots," in late June, when it changed directions and engulfed them.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency denied the state's request for assistance based on insurance rules, it said in a statement Friday. It determined that not enough uninsured private individuals had become victims to warrant a payout.

FEMA said it is not permitted to "duplicate benefits provided by insurance companies or other federal agencies."

The agency also declined to issue a "major disaster declaration" for affected areas.

Solemn 100-mile procession for fallen firefighters

Lone survivor pays tribute at Arizona firefighters memorial

Fiery response

The decision drew criticism from Arizona's two Republican senators, John McCain and Jeff Flake.

Widow of firefighter fights for benefits
A deadly wildfire leaves behind little but a burned-out car and the remains of a house in a Yarnell, Arizona, neighborhood on Wednesday, July 3. The fire started a week ago near Yarnell, apparently because of lightning strikes. Nineteen firefighters were killed Sunday, June 30, battling the blaze northwest of Phoenix. A deadly wildfire leaves behind little but a burned-out car and the remains of a house in a Yarnell, Arizona, neighborhood on Wednesday, July 3. The fire started a week ago near Yarnell, apparently because of lightning strikes. Nineteen firefighters were killed Sunday, June 30, battling the blaze northwest of Phoenix.
Deadly wildfire burns in Arizona
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Photos: Arizona wildfire Photos: Arizona wildfire

"We are disappointed that FEMA denied the governor's disaster declaration request for the Yarnell Hill Fire," they said in a joint statement. "It is a shame that FEMA couldn't find it within their mission to help rebuild their homes and lives."

Republican Gov. Jan Brewer directed her criticism directly at the president.

"I am deeply troubled by the Obama administration's decision to deny much-needed recovery assistance in the wake of Arizona's deadliest wildfire," she said in a statement.

In a phone call after the fire, President Barack Obama had pledged support, she said. She felt that he had now backed down.

"With today's denial of the state's request, Arizonans are left questioning what help (the president and vice president) were willing to give," she said.

Vice President Joe Biden spoke at a memorial for the fallen hotshots in July.

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FEMA firefighting aid

After they perished in the flames, FEMA issued a grant to the state to help cover the costs of fighting the blaze while it was still active.

The fire devoured more than 8,000 acres of woodland. But the Yarnell Hill blaze ravaged two communities, wiping out homes and other buildings.

Arizona's governor and two senators said they want to appeal FEMA's decision.

How you can help

CNN's Adam Aigner-Treworgy and Carol Cratty contributed to this report

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