Arizona wildfire forces thousands of people from their homesPosted: Updated:
A wildfire burning Wednesday through a dense Arizona forest has forced thousands of people from their homes, closed a major road and created a huge plume of smoke over the same area devastated by a blaze that killed 19 firefighters four years ago.
The fire is burning in communities around Prescott, a mountain city about 100 miles (160.9 kilometers) north of Phoenix that draws a mix of desert dwellers escaping the heat, retirees and visitors to its famed Old West-themed Whiskey Row.
The fire has charred more than 28 square miles (73 square kilometers) while being fanned by winds ranging to 35 mph (56 kph) winds.
More than 500 firefighters were battling the blaze. A firefighter suffered a minor injury.
The fire forced the evacuation of Mayer and Dewey-Humboldt along with several other communities, and one of the main roads into Prescott was closed. Dewey-Humboldt has about 4,000 residents; Mayer has about 1,400.
[SPECIAL SECTION: Arizona wildfires]
Many residents have painful memories of the 2013 wildfire that killed 19 members of an elite firefighting crew.
"It's scary because we're coming up on the four-year anniversary of the Yarnell Hill fire - there's still a lot of fresh memories," said Arizona state Sen. Karen Fann, who lives in Prescott and represents the area where the fire is burning.
Elsewhere across the western U.S., Utah firefighters braced for more high winds as they tried to slow a stubborn wildfire that has burned 13 homes and forced the evacuation of 1,500 people from a ski resort town.
In California, a wildfire destroyed the home of "Big Bang Theory" star Johnny Galecki on a ranch in the San Luis Obispo area.
Firefighters in Washington state were battling three fires near Wenatchee that had grown to about 37 square miles (95 square kilometers).
And in Idaho, fire officials say quick responses by ranchers and others to more than 20 wildfires sparked by lightning have kept the small fires from becoming major blazes like those that scorched the region in recent decades.
In Arizona, Jennifer Johnson of Phoenix was driving into Prescott Valley Tuesday for a meeting and noticed smoke on the way in. By the time the meeting wrapped up a few hours later, things had changed dramatically.
"Getting closer to Mayer, it looked like we were driving into some alien sort of invasion, like the whole sky was on fire," she said.
Video she took along the freeway shows huge clouds of smoke colored red by flames.
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey said the fire is the state's top priority.
The blaze is burning in thick chaparral that has not seen a fire in more than 40 years. It's also in steep, rugged terrain that makes it difficult for firefighters to reach.
Yavapai County Emergency Management Coordinator Denny Foulk said there are about 2,000 residents in the area affected by the fire and 3,000 structures in the evacuated area were at risk but officials were not immediately sure how many are homes.
"Fires are a very, very personal thing," Foulk said. "When you lose memories, when you lose homes, that affects you for a very, very long time."
The county's Animal Disaster Services shelter said it was housing more than two dozen dogs and 11 horses.
"Yesterday you could not smell it, which means it was probably blowing away from us," Dewey-Humboldt resident Zerril Perkins said. "Now you can smell it so that's a little worrisome because it might be blowing toward us."
He and his wife were packed and ready to head to Phoenix if necessary.
In Utah, firefighters hoped residents could return to homes in the town of Brian Head that have been evacuated since June 17.
Authorities said the fire was started by someone using a torch tool to burn weeds on private land. It has become the largest wildfire in the nation at 78 square miles (201 square kilometers).
AP writers Clarice Silber and Bob Christie contributed from Phoenix.
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