Tenderfoot fire forces evacuations three years after deadly Yarnell incident

YARNELL – A wildfire has burned more than 1,200 acres near Yarnell, forcing the evacuation of about 300 residents and raising memories of the Yarnell Hill tragedy three years ago when 19 firefighters died.

“There were just rivers of fires coming down the mountain,” said Yarnell resident Pat Sim. “One of the deputies came into Dollar General as the fire was rolling over the hill and yelled, “close this store immediately. Get out of this area right now.’ ”

One resident said the fire looked like lava and another saw a Verizon store go up in flames.

“The wind goes this way, then it goes that way — because of all these hills, it stretches so fast,” Christine Crouch said. “It just fires up so quick, it’s crazy.”

Sim and Crouch were among seven families that waited outside the southern entrance to Yarnell.

Air tankers and ground forces are fighting the Tenderfoot Fire, which is about ten percent contained. Late Thursday afternoon, more evacuations were ordered along Highway 89 near Peeples Valley as a wildfire moved toward 30 homes.

The evacuations were a precaution as winds increased and there was no imminent threat, according to the Arizona Bureau of Land Management.

The wildfire brought back painful memories of the Yarnell Hill Fire in 2013, when 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots died battling a wildfire. Only one man, serving as lookout, survived.

“Everyone was saying, ‘not again,'” said Sim, 68, waiting with other families on word of when they would be able to return to their homes. Officials said it likely would not come until at least Friday.

Arizona Public Service officials said power was out to about 300 homes in the area.

“We’re trying to get to our refrigerators because, with no power, our food spoils,” Crouch said. “We’ve been through this before.”

Sim said she appreciates the quick response from federal, state and fire officials.

“It was good to see, and it just makes you feel safe,” she said.