About 2,000 residents of the eastern Arizona town of Eagar were ordered to evacuate their homes as flames from a raging forest fire appeared on ridges surrounding the town and neighbouring Springerville.
Firefighters had spent Tuesday working feverishly to prepare a defence for the two towns as residents - told earlier that an evacuation order was likely - prepared to leave. More evacuations are likely.
Sheriffs’ deputies and police officers from the communities were in the streets directing traffic as people started to stream out of Eagar.
Flames were spotted on a ridge on the south-eastern side of Springerville and columns of orange smoke were rising from the hills.
Eagar has about 4,000 residents, while Springerville has another 2,000. In all, about 7,000 people have been ordered to prepare for evacuation in recent days.
The blaze has burned 486 square miles of pine forest since it started on May 29 and is the second-biggest in Arizona history. Several tiny resort towns in the nearby Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest were evacuated earlier.
Meanwhile, bulldozers scraped away brush and trees to create a barrier between the towns and the approaching flames in the surrounding mountains.
Other crews removed brush from around homes and firefighters were sent to protect buildings from the flames. Many residents were ready for the order to get out.
“If given the word, then I’m gonna go,” Eagar resident Gerald McCardle said. “We’re already packed. We packed last night, and we’re out of here.”