YARNELL, Ariz. — Gusty, hot winds blew an Arizona blaze out of control Sunday in a forest northwest of Phoenix, overtaking and killing 19 members of an elite fire crew in the deadliest wildfire involving firefighters in the U.S. for at least 30 years.
The “hotshot” firefighters were forced to deploy their fire shelters — tent-like structures meant to shield firefighters from flames and heat — when they were caught near the central Arizona town of Yarnell, state forestry spokesman Art Morrison told The Associated Press.
Earlier Sunday, the 2,000-acre wildfire prompted evacuations of 50 homes in several communities. Later Sunday afternoon, the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office expanded the evacuations to include more residents in the town of Yarnell.
Morrison said several homes in the community of Glenisle have been burned. He said no other injuries or deaths have been reported from that area.
About 200 firefighters are fighting the wildfire, which has also forced the closure of parts of state Route 89.
An additional 130 firefighters and more water- and retardant-dropping helicopters and aircraft are on their way.
Mike Reichling, Arizona State Forestry Division spokesman, told The Arizona Republic they’re calling in federal help to fight the fire.
Roxie Glover, spokeswoman at Wickenburg Community Hospital, said that the hospital has been told to expect people with injuries.
In the afternoon, the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office expanded the evacuations to include residents in the Peeples Valley area and in the town of Yarnell.
The Red Cross has opened a shelter at Yavapai College in Prescott, the sheriff’s office said.
The fire started Friday but picked up momentum Sunday as the area experienced high temperatures, low humidity and windy conditions.
In another Arizona fire, a 2-acre blaze that started at a motorcycle salvage yard and spread to a trailer park has destroyed five mobile homes in the Gila County community of Rye, located more than 130 miles east of Yarnell.
Gila County Health and Emergency Services Director Michael O’Driscoll said no one was injured in Rye.
The fire was ignited Saturday night at All Bikes Sales located off Highway 87. It spread to neighboring federal Forest Service land but was fully contained within 12 hours of its start.
The cause of the fire is under investigation.