Tunnel Fire burns nearly 20,000 acres near Flagstaff; state of emergency declared (2022)

The Coconino County Board of Supervisors declared a State of Emergency on Tuesday as the Tunnel Fire continues burning 14 miles northeast of Flagstaff. It had grown to nearly 20,000 acres as of Wednesday evening.

"Declaring a State of Emergency allows the county to expend emergency funds from all available sources and request assistance from the State of Arizona," according to Coconino County. "If the Governor signs the Declaration, then the State of Arizona will offer further disaster assistance through operational efforts and financial support to the County."

The fire, which was reported Sunday shortly before 4:30 p.m., was at 0% containment as of Wednesday morning, according to forest officials. The cause is unknown and under investigation.

As of Wednesday evening, the fire had grown to 19,712 acres.

Wildfire map: Track where fires are burning in Arizona in 2022

It was estimated that about 25 structures have been lost to the fire and 250 more are threatened, according to the Coconino County Sheriff's Office.

There were over 260 people working on the fire as of Wednesday morning and a Type 1 Incident Management Team — a national team for large, complex fires — is scheduled to arrive Thursday.

According to the Arizona Department of Transportation, U.S. 89 remains closed in both directions between mileposts 423 and 445 north of Flagstaff.

Crooks Fire: 1,600 acres burned south of Prescott; evacuations still in effect

(Video) Tunnel Fire near Flagstaff continues, over 21,000 acres burned

Where is the Tunnel Fire burning?

The fire is burning northeast of Flagstaff across U.S. 89, to the east of San Francisco Mountain, the northwest of the tourist attraction Hundred Dollar Hill and south of the Deadman Mesa mountain peak.

Tunnel Fire has covered a northwest portion of Black Bill Park and is burning over the Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument. The fire has also reached Black Mountain.

It appears Tunnel Fire is burning through a part of the scar of Schultz Fire, which burned over 15,000 acres of forest and was the largest wildfire in Arizona in 2010. The Schultz Fire led to floods that damaged or destroyed 85 homes and killed a 12-year-old girl, Shaelyn Wilson, who fell into a wash and was swept away by the water carrying boulders and wreckage.

The National Weather Service issued a Red Flag Warning for parts of northern Arizona, including Flagstaff, between 11 a.m. and 8 p.m. Thursday due to high winds and low humidity.

Tony Merriman, a meteorologist with NWS Flagstaff, told The Arizona Republic that the area is expected to have high winds with gusts up to 35 mph. Merriman said that the winds, coupled with low humidity, create an environment where a wildfire could quickly grow out of control.

According to an update from InciWeb, forceful winds expected Thursday and Friday will limit retardant drops and further hinder contain. Officials advised residents to avoid the use of private drones do not as all aircraft support would be grounded if one is spotted.

Although no burn restrictions are in place, Merriman cautioned people in the area to avoid tossing out lit cigarettes, dragging chains or parking their vehicle in tall grass.

'We will get through this together'

Displaced residents gathered at Sinagua Middle School in Flagstaff Wednesday afternoon where county leaders briefed the public on the fire and its status.

Patrice Horstman, chair of the Coconino County Board of Supervisors, acknowledged the community’s fears and concerns as the Tunnel fire continued to grow.

(Video) Tunnel Fire update as blaze surges to nearly 20K acres

“We know it’s been frustrating, it’s been stressful and quite frankly it’s been very worrisome for many people who are worried about their home and their pets,” Horstman said. “We know that there are more questions right now than there are answers. But we, if we’ve learned anything, we know that we are a resilient, tight-knit community. We will get through this together and we will find the answers together.”

Coconino County Sheriff Jim Driscoll said he wished he could tell people when they could expect to return to their homes, but said too many risks currently existed to allow them to return.

Driscoll said the Tunnel Fire still posed a threat and combustibles such as propane tanks remained in the area. He added that utility companies would likely need to inspect the area to ensure the area was safe as well.

Multiple residents asked why further measures, such as fire restrictions or closing the forest, hadn't been implemented despite weather conditions that increase the chances of another wildfire igniting.

Matt McGrath, a district ranger with the United States Forest Service, said he and other agencies discuss fire prevention measures regularly and noted that fire restrictions aren't usually implemented in April but said that could change as wildfire season appeared to begin progressively earlier each year.

McGrath also noted that many of the people who obey forest access restrictions are the ones who follow fire safety practices and report others who fail to extinguish their campfire or engage in other risky behavior. He also noted that many entrances to the forest lack a gate or obstacle to prevent someone from entering, making closing access completely quite difficult.

Evacuations for Tunnel Fire

Coconino County Supervisor Patrice Horstman reported approximately 2,068 people live in the affected area. As of 7 p.m. Tuesday, 766 households and over 1,000 animals were evacuated, she said.

According to the Coconino County Situational Awareness Viewer, the following areas have to evacuate:

  • North of Campbell Avenue, west of U.S. 89

    (Video) Arizona governor declares state of emergency in Tunnel Fire l ABC News

  • North of Campbell Avenue, east of U.S. 89

  • Moon Crater

The areas that should prepare for possible evacuation orders are:

  • South of Campbell Avenue, west of U.S. 89

  • South of Campbell Avenue, east of U.S. 89

  • Antelope Hills

  • Areas east of existing evacuation areas near Moon Crater, north of Leupp Road and south of Stone House Wash

"I cannot stress enough how rapidly this fire is moving in a northeasterly direction," said Fire Management Officer True Brown on Tuesday night, emphasizing the importance of leaving the fire area.

People who have evacuated their home due to the Tunnel Fire are asked to contact the call center at 928-679-8525. According to Coconino County, they are experiencing a high call volume but will respond to all voicemails.

(Video) Tunnel Fire near Flagstaff tops 20,000 acres overnight

Those unsure about an evacuation notice or who feel it might be a scam can call law enforcement agencies to confirm evacuation stages. The Coconino County Sheriff's Office asked to call its non-emergency number at 928-774-4523 and Flagstaff Police Department at 928-774-4114.

Shelter information

A Red Cross Shelter has been opened at Sinagua Middle School at 3950 E. Butler Ave. in Flagstaff for those evacuated from areas affected by the Tunnel Fire, according to Coconino County. Animals are not allowed into the evacuation center.

Those in the Timberline area with household pets and horses, goats, sheep, pigs, and chickens, are able to bring them to the Coconino Humane Association at 3501 E. Butler Ave., in Flagstaff. Coconino County asks those in the area to not take household pets to the High Country Humane Animal Shelter as it has also been evacuated. Instead, pets can be taken to the Coconino Humane Association.

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Coconino County distributed a number of QR codes that when scanned with the camera application on a smartphone, will lead to resources available regarding evacuations and updates on the fire.

(Video) Updates on Tunnel Fire north of Flagstaff, over 21,000 acres burned

Reach breaking news reporter Angela Cordoba Perez at Angela.CordobaPerez@Gannett.com or on Twitter @AngelaCordobaP.

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Tunnel Fire near Flagstaff burns 20K acres; state of emergency issued

FAQs

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Videos

1. Nearly 400 firefighters working against 21,000-acre Tunnel Fire
(12 News)
2. Officials give update on the Tunnel Fire near Flagstaff, which has burned over 20,000 acres
(AZFamily 3TV and CBS 5 News)
3. Crews continue to fight the Tunnel Fire near Flagstaff
(12 News)
4. Tunnel Fire continues to grow near Flagstaff
(ABC15 Arizona)
5. Tunnel Fire continues to burn near Flagstaff
(12 News)
6. State Of Emergency Declared For Arizona Due To Tunnel Fire
(FOX Weather)

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