YARNELL, Ariz. — Gusty hot winds blew an Arizona wildfire out of control Sunday, overtaking and killing 19 elite firefighters in the deadliest wildfire involving firefighters in the United States in at least 30 years.
The specially trained ‘‘hotshot’’ firefighters were forced to deploy their fire shelters — tent-like structures meant to shield them from flames and heat — when they were caught near the central Arizona town of Yarnell, state forestry spokesman Art Morrison said.
“It’s a dark day,” said Mike Reichling, Arizona State Forestry Division spokesman, told the Arizona Republic.
The fire started Friday and spread to 2,000 acres Sunday amid triple-digit temperatures, low humidity, and windy conditions. Officials ordered the evacuations of 50 homes in several communities, and later Sunday afternoon, the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office expanded the order to include residents in the Peeples Valley area and more residents in Yarnell, about 85 miles northwest of Phoenix.
Fire officials said they feared the wildfire would consume about half of Yarnell’s 500 homes.
Roxie Glover, spokeswoman at Wickenburg Community Hospital, said the hospital has been told to expect people with injuries.
The wildfire also forced the closure of parts of state Route 89, the Arizona Department of Transportation announced.
The Red Cross has opened a shelter at Yavapai College in Prescott, the sheriff’s office said.
About 200 firefighters were battling the blaze and an additional 130 firefighters and more water- and retardant-dropping helicopters and aircraft were on their way.
In another Arizona fire, a 2-acre blaze that started at a motorcycle salvage yard and spread to a trailer park has destroyed five mobile homes in the Gila County community of Rye, located more than 130 miles east of Yarnell.
Gila County Health and Emergency Services Director Michael O’Driscoll said no one was injured in Rye.
Intense heat was a key factor in the explosiveness of the Yarnell fire. A stifling heat wave throughout the Southwest the past few days has pushed temperatures to or past record highs.
The National Weather Service’s thermometer recorded a peak temperature of 128 degrees in Death Valley National Park, which ties the record for the hottest June day anywhere in the country. However, the Los Angeles Times reported that the National Park Service thermometer — 200 yards away — recorded a temperature of 129.9, which shatters the record for June.
Death Valley’s record high of 134 degrees, set nearly a century ago on July 10, 1913, stands as the planet’s highest recorded temperature.
In Las Vegas, the mercury shot up to 117 degrees Sunday to tie the city’s record high and to cause more discomfort for residents and tourists in the sprawling desert city.
Since record-keeping began in Las Vegas in 1937, the only other times the temperature reached 117 degrees were on July 19, 2005, and July 24, 1942, according to the National Weather Service.
On Saturday, paramedics responding to a Nevada home without air conditioning found an elderly man dead.
Triple-digit heat struck again elsewhere in Southern California.
Six half-marathon runners in Southern California were hospitalized Sunday for heat-related illnesses. The runners were extremely dehydrated, and some experienced cramps, Pasadena Fire Department spokeswoman Lisa Derderian said.
Metropolitan Phoenix saw a slight drop in temperature to 115 degrees after reaching 119 degrees Saturday, a record for the day and the fourth-hottest day in the city’s recorded history. No deaths have been reported but emergency workers have gotten 98 heat-related calls within the metro area since Friday morning.
In Utah, a record 105-degree heat caused an interstate on-ramp to buckle in Salt Lake City and hampered firefighters in their battle against three wildfires. The Interstate 215 on-ramp had to be closed for four hours Saturday night after a short section of it expanded, Utah Department of Transportation spokesman John Gleason said.
Several Southern California communities set same-day record highs Saturday including Palm Springs, where the mercury peaked at 122 degrees. In Northern California, Redding reported a high of 110, Sacramento had 107 while Fresno saw 109.