Update as of 2:19 a.m. EDT: The fire destroyed an estimated 200 homes, Associated Press reported, citing state forestry spokesman Art Morrison.
At least 19 firefighters have lost their lives so far while battling a blaze in Yarnell, in central Arizona, the United States Wildland Fire Aviation agency said late on Sunday night.
“It has been confirmed that 19 Wildland Firefighters have lost their lives on the Yarnell Hill fire Arizona..I ask for prayers for the families and friends of these brave men and women,” the agency said in a post on its Facebook page.
The news follows an Arizona Forestry Division official's earlier announcement stating that 19 firefighters were missing but it was not immediately clear what caused the deaths.
The crew, all members of the city’s fire department, was fighting a fire that broke out about 80 miles northwest of Phoenix on Friday. A lightning is believed to have started the fire, which immediately spread to 1,000 acres, CNN reported.
Forestry official Art Morrison told CNN on Sunday that three homes had so far been destroyed and residents of Peeples Valley and Yarnell were evacuated soon after the blaze picked up momentum on Sunday.
The fire has not yet been contained due to windy conditions and high temperatures, and officials expect the blaze to damage at least half of the town’s 500 homes, fire officials told The Arizona Republic.
The states of Arizona, Nevada and California are currently battling a record-setting heat wave, with temperatures soaring to 120 degrees in some places.