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Arizona wildfire again forcing Yarnell residents to evacuate

(Special photo to KTAR/Patrick Markis)

PHOENIX — A wildfire threatening a northern Arizona town that just three years ago endured a nearby blaze that killed 19 firefighters, has been 30 percent contained, officials said.

The Tenderfoot Fire has already burned over 4,000 acres (readjusted from an earlier estimate of 5,000 acres) as of Saturday night. At least three structures — but no homes — have been lost and some cellular sites were threatened.

Incident commander Rob Roy Williams said winds were pushing the flames away from the town and that residents could be allowed to return. Some residents in Yarnell had been evacuated Wednesday as the Tenderfoot Fire approached.

As many as 300 residents from the eastern side of Yarnell had been ordered to take refuge at a Red Cross shelter at Yavapai College in Prescott and the Daily Courier reported the remainder were told to prepare to leave.

Those evacuations were all officially lifted on Saturday night, meaning that all evacuation restrictions and road closures were no more.

Mandatory evacuations in Yarnell are all too familiar for the town’s residents.

Dana and Janet Howe remember the 2013 Yarnell Hill Fire. They were actually headed on vacation when they were told they could not return to their home. They said some residents just stood and watched the flames back in 2013, but it was a much different feeling this time around.

“This time, we had about a half an hour, which isn’t too much to get everything you need,” Dana Howe said.

Daniel Moore lived in Congress back in 2013, on the other side of the Yarnell Hill fire. He lives in Yarnell now and said the flames from the Tenderfoot fire were about two miles from his home.

“My neighbor first pointed it out to me, and I took a look and the flames were just coming over the hill,” Moore said. “I just loaded up a few things and my dog.”

Moore and the Howe’s are both staying at Yavapai College in Prescott.

“We’re not young chicks anymore. We’ve been married almost 52 years. Something like this is devastating. You don’t want your spouse to suffer,” Dana Howe said.

His wife Janet just had surgery but she tried to put a positive spin on the situation.

“It’s an adventure. I’m sorry, but it’s an adventure,” she said.

Diane Tackett was also forced from her home. She lost everything in the fire three years ago.

“That’s just the way it is. This evacuation is more nerve-wracking … I’m afraid to lose my home again,” she said. “I have the most important things I could think of.”

That included her dog, who was hurt during the evacuation in a fight with her son’s dog.

Tackett rushed to an animal hospital in Prescott and learned that the bill would be almost $600.

She couldn’t afford that, she lives on a fixed income of under $600 each month from Social Security.

She tearfully explained how a good Samaritan came to her rescue.

“I’m a senior citizen. I’m 67. The vet said maybe you can swing $10 a month. I said that’ll be tough but I can probably swing it,” Tackett said. “She took my dog and I filled out the papers. And then they told me someone has picked up the bill for me. My dog can get fixed. How sweet of them.”

About 30 homes in nearby Peeple’s Valley on the eastern side of State Route 89 were put under a mandatory evacuation but only as a precaution, Arizona State Forestry spokesman Mike Reichling said.

Mail for sent to the Yarnell Post Office was redirected to Wickenburg, where residents who have a photo ID can pick it up.

The Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office said no injuries have been reported so far.

At one point, more than 1,000 people were without power in the area, the Arizona Public Service power outage map showed. About half had power by Thursday morning.

The U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management were working with local fire departments to stop the blaze. About 240 people were on the scene.

U.S. 89 was closed from milepost 282 to milepost 275 and was reopened at 4 p.m. Thursday.

Temporary flight restrictions were put in place in the skies over Yarnell to make room for firefighting aircraft. A DC-10 designed to battle wildfires was in the area.

The cause of the fire is unknown.

Gov. Doug Ducey said in a statement that he and other officials are in constant communication with those fighting the fire and are ready to help if needed.

Yarnell was evacuated three years ago when a wildfire that started near the town grew to 8,400 acres. The fire eventually claimed the lives of 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots and destroyed more than 120 structures in the area.

It was the greatest loss of firefighters since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the largest number of firefighters killed by a wildfire since 1933.

KTAR’s Jim Cross and Mike Sackley contributed to this report.

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