Family Of Tree Cutter Killed In 2002 Wildfire Wins Government Benefits

DENVER (AP) -- The family of a tree cutter who died while helping fight a 2002 wildfire will receive a $250,000 death benefit, opening the door for similar workers to receive government beneits.

The widow of Alan Wyatt learned Wednesday that the federal government approved the benefit, said his daughter, Leigh Ann Evans.

The U.S. Forest Service had hired Wyatt, 51, of Ontario, Ore., to fell dangerous trees from the Missionary Ridge fire in the San Juan National Forest. He died July 2, 2002, when he was struck by a tree near one that he was cutting.

The federal Public Safety Officers Benefit Program provides benefits for firefighters killed on the job, but the Justice Department denied benefits to Wyatt's family because it said he was not directly involved in firefighting activity.

The family spent 17 months appealing to federal administrators and won.

``It was basically trying to clarify the rules and to try to make the process a little easier for people in the future,'' Evans said. ``There will be firefighter deaths in the future, no doubt.''

She said that because timber fallers often work alongside others on the front lines who are categorized as firefighters, they should be eligible for the same benefits.