Residents leave homes as wildfires sweep through US West

Jill Baker grabbed her dogs and took refuge at a high school after a raging fire forced her northern Arizona town to evacuate.

Baker was one of nearly 2,000 people who fled a wildfire that has charred 32 square miles (83 square kilometers) of dense shrubbery over the same area devastated by a blaze that killed 19 firefighters four years ago.

“It looked like five fires,” Baker said. “We were probably 7 miles from the actual fire and it was pretty scary.” Baker, a Mayer resident, got word of the evacuation while filling up at a gas station. She said that as she left, with a huge plume of smoke darkening the sky, residents were pulling onto the side of the road and discussing what to do about their belongings, pets and horses.

More than 600 firefighters were battling the blaze 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.

Yavapai County spokesman David McAtee said Wednesday about 3,400 people in the area have been affected by the fire and roughly 3,000 structures in the evacuated areas were at risk but officials were not immediately sure how many are homes. Residents of Mayer, Dewey-Humboldt and several other communities took flight. Dewey-Humboldt has about 4,000 residents. Mayer has about 1,400.

“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 represents the area where the fire is burning.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey plans to visit the area Thursday after declaring a state of emergency in Yavapai County that directs $200,000 in emergency funds to fire suppression efforts and reimbursements for emergency response and recovery costs.

It’s also a key requirement should federal aid be requested.

Elsewhere across the western U.S., a fire in the foothills north…

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