YARNELL, Ariz. — Calmer weather eased the intensity of a brush fire near an Arizona community where a 2013 blaze killed 19 members of an elite firefighting crew, officials said Thursday.
The fire burned about 2 square mile of brush and grass and light winds of 5-10 mph Thursday were blowing it away from town, said Dolores Garcia, a Bureau of Land Management spokeswoman. The size estimate is double the previous one from Wednesday night but Garcia said it mostly reflects more accurate mapping.
Firefighters have a perimeter around 10 percent of the fire and the weather forecast calls for favorable conditions over the next several days, said RobRoy Williams, the incident commander. “We’re looking very good,” he said.
How the fire started isn’t known but Williams said a human cause is suspected.
The flames broke out Wednesday, leading 250 to 300 people evacuating their homes near Yarnell, about 60 miles northwest of Phoenix.
Calm winds and cooler conditions with higher humidity overnight helped slow the fire, allowing firefighters to get some rest, said Dolores Garcia, a Bureau of Land Management spokeswoman.
Winds of 15-20 mph late Wednesday “did prove challenging,” she said.
There have been no reported injuries. No homes were reported destroyed but the fire burned three structures such as sheds.
About 200 personnel, including four firefighter crews, were assigned to the blaze. They were supported by fire engines, air tankers and helicopters.
The 19 firefighters killed in June 2013 were members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots trapped by flames in a canyon — the deadliest U.S. tragedy for wildland firefighters in several decades.
Officials said brush clearing and other preventative work done in the community since the 2013 fire helped firefighters keep the latest fire out of the town by connecting areas already cleared of brush with new fire lines and burnout areas.
Without that work, “we would not have been successful,” Williams said.
News video Thursday morning showed the fire burning in several areas of desert brush east and north of Yarnell. A long reddish stain from fire retardant dropped by a large air tanker late Wednesday was visible between those areas and the town itself.
The Red Cross said 14 people spent Wednesday night at a shelter at a college in nearby Prescott.
State Route 89 through Yarnell was shut down because of the fire.
Williams said Thursday morning that the stretch of highway might be reopened Thursday afternoon but Garcia said fire managers later decided to leave it closed through the heat of the day to avoid hindering the movement of firefighting equipment.