Residents displaced by Yarnell Hill Fire go home

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By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) -- Hundreds of people who were forced out of a small Arizona community because of a deadly wildfire returned home Monday, finding a landscape drastically different than they remembered.

Vehicles lined up along the highway into Yarnell well before the evacuation order was lifted. Residents had to present identification to prove residency so that they could have a couple of days to sift through the ashes, survey the damage and let reality sink in before the area opens to the public Wednesday.

"I know we're going to be swamped not only with the press but onlookers," Yarnell school board member Eric Lawton said. "That's hard when you're trying to deal with stuff and get back into a groove."

Small shops that sell antiques, saddles and groceries are still intact, but the fire that broke out June 28 created a patchwork of destruction throughout homes and on the ground. More than 100 homes were destroyed, many reduced to ashes. Large, charred boulders and blackened trees dotted the town.

"It's a bittersweet day today, driving through the town and seeing it burnt, and knowing a lot of people don't have homes," Yarnell resident Tammy Consier said.

But, she said: "This is an awesome community, there's going to be beauty from the ashes."

About 700 residents were evacuated from the community northwest of Phoenix. The fire started June 28.

For residents heading into Yarnell from Wickenburg, a highway sign marking 19 miles into the town is another reminder of what was lost. Nineteen members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots died June 30 after winds shifted and cut off their escape route. A memorial service for them is planned Tuesday with Vice President Joe Biden and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano scheduled to attend.

A recovery center where residents can get help dealing with insurance companies, pick up cleaning supplies, and grab food and water opened Monday at the Yarnell Community Center and the local Presbyterian Church.

Yavapai County Emergency Management spokesman Tim Tait said those services will be available for as long as the residents need them.


The Yarnell Water Improvement Association is advising returning residents to boil their water until further notice. While there is no confirmed contamination in the water system, the YWIA will not receive results of tests on water samples until Tuesday.

From the posted advisory:

"Boil all water intended for drinking, preparing foods, washing ready to eat fruits and vegetables, making beverages or ice, brushing teeth or any other human consumption. Boiled water should then be refrigerated in a clean, covered container. Users can also choose to use bottled or distilled water, or water that has been filtered through a well-maintained treatment device.

"It is reasonably safe for to take a shower. However, care should be taken to minimize ingesting water by mouth. The water can be used for flushing toilets. If you have dishes or cooking utensils that need to be washed, you should use either bottled or boiled water."

Residents who do not have water should call the YWIA at 928-427-3321 to have service restored.

Only residents of Yarnell will be allowed into the community for the next couple of days. Sheriff's deputies will be checking identification and proof of residency at designated checkpoints.