Hundreds evacuated as wildfire rages near Arizona town

YARNELL, Ariz. (AP) — Hundreds of people evacuated their homes as a wildfire raged near the Arizona town of Yarnell — the scene of a 2013 blaze that killed 19 members of an elite firefighting crew.

Bureau of Land Management spokeswoman Dolores Garcia said 250 to 300 people left their homes in the town.

There have been no reports of injuries, Yavapai County sheriff’s spokesman Dwight D’Evelyn said.

The fire grew to 600 acres, but crews expected it to ease somewhat during the overnight with cooler temperatures and higher humidity.

Garcia said three unoccupied buildings have burned but no homes have been lost in the town about 60 miles northwest of Phoenix.

About 140 firefighting personnel were battling the blaze, supported by three air tankers and two helicopters making blaze suppression drops.

The cause of the blaze was being investigated, but Garcia said crews had ruled out lightning.

It was burning south of the town and east of the site of the Yarnell Hill Fire in which members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots died when they got trapped by the flames nearly three years ago — the deadliest U.S. tragedy for wildland firefighters in several decades.

That lightning-caused wildfire destroyed nearly 130 homes in the area.

On Wednesday, some Yarnell homeowners said they saw smoke and received a voluntary evacuation notice on their cellphones.

“It’s horrific,” said Yarnell resident Jerry Florman told the Arizona Republic over the telephone as she left town around 6:30 p.m. “I’m halfway down the mountain with the dog. I’m guessing there will be plenty of people saying, ‘I’m not going to go back.’ It’s so hard.”

Florman and her husband, Kurt, lost their home in the fire three years ago and later purchased another home nearby.

The paper said the Flormans hoped that this fire would be extinguished quickly and be nowhere as devastating.

A Red Cross shelter for evacuees was set up at Yavapai College in Prescott.

Highway 89 through Yarnell was shut down as U.S. Forest Service crews did back-burns and dug trenches while air tankers dropped slurry loads before nightfall.

Authorities said the fire appeared to be moving up mountain slopes to the northeast of Yarnell and away from the town, but its western flank still was threatened.

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