Fire in a tunnel near Flagstaff: evacuations lifted, donations accepted
The Tunnel Fire burning 14 miles northeast of Flagstaff grew slightly to 21,164 acres on Sunday morning as most residents were allowed to return home.
The blaze, burning across US 89, was reported shortly before 4:30 p.m. on April 17 and was at 3% containment Sunday morning, according to InciWeb, a government website that tracks wildfires.
The cause of the fire is unknown and is under investigation.
The Coconino County Sheriff’s Office announced late Saturday that a “go” evacuation order will be lifted for residents living in neighborhoods along US 89 beginning at 9 a.m. Sunday. The tunnel fire incident management team determined that the state and condition of the fire no longer posed an “imminent threat” to the area.
Operations Section Chief James Osborne told a community meeting Saturday, held at Sinagua Middle School, that fire crews worked Saturday to contain the blaze taking advantage of light wind conditions to mop up the fire and secure the line of control to prepare for the next week’s high winds.
The Coconino County Sheriff’s Office reported late Thursday that about 109 properties were affected by the fire, including 30 burned residences and 24 properties with destroyed outbuildings, forestry officials said.
On Thursday, Governor Doug Ducey declared a state of emergency to help communities affected by the fire. More than 750 households have been evacuated, according to a statement released by his office.
The emergency declaration will make $200,000 from the general fund available to Arizona Emergency Management Division Director Allen Clark.
The Coconino County Board of Supervisors declared a state of emergency on Tuesday, allowing them to spend emergency funds and seek support from the state of Arizona.
According to the Arizona Department of Transportation, US 89 reopened around 12:30 p.m. Sunday after being closed for about five days due to the fire.
Where is the Tunnel Fire burning?
The fire is burning northeast of Flagstaff across US 89, east of San Francisco Mountain, northwest of the Hundred Dollar Hill tourist attraction, west of Black Bottom Crater and south from the top of Deadman Mesa mountain.
The Tunnel Fire covered a northwest portion of Black Bill Park and is burning in Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument. The fire also reached Black Mountain.
The western part of the tunnel fire burns through part of the scar from the Schultz Fire, which burned more than 15,000 acres of forest and was the largest wildfire in Arizona in 2010. Fuels left over from the Schultz fire are more likely to help spread the fires again.
Information for residents returning home after tunnel fire evacuation
Late Saturday, all previously evacuated neighborhoods were restored to “defined” condition, allowing residents to return to their homes.
“Residents returning to the area are reminded that conditions and status of evacuation levels may change at any time depending on fire behavior,” Coconino County National Forest officials said in a statement. .
According to the Coconino County Situational Awareness Viewer, the areas that should be prepared for possible evacuation orders are:
- South of Campbell Avenue, west of US 89.
- South of Campbell Avenue, east of US 89.
- Hills of antelopes.
- Lunar crater.
Neighborhoods went from “go” to “set” status as of Sunday morning, including Timberline, Fernwood, Wupatki Trails, Girls Ranch Road and Lenox Park.
Evacuated residents are asked to report in person to the North Parking Lot of the Silver Saddle Trading Post, located at 9001 NUS 89 in Flagstaff. Residents will be required to present identification or other documentation proving their address before being permitted entry. Once the registration process is complete, residents will be able to access their properties.
The Coconino County Sheriff’s Office and the National Forest said as residents return, people should be aware of the expected “byproducts” of the wildfire.
“Examples of hazards include fire-weakened trees that may fall without warning, loss of ground vegetation may loosen rolling debris and rocks and stump ash pits may appear benign but hold hot ashes for a some time and can cause serious burns if they intervene,” forestry officials said in a statement on Sunday.
“If you observe any issues with unsafe trees or structures, we ask that you contact the appropriate agency on their non-emergency numbers to resolve these issues,” the Coconino County Sheriff’s Office said.
Those who are unsure of an evacuation notice or think it might be a scam can call law enforcement to confirm evacuation steps. The Coconino County Sheriff’s Office asked to call his non-emergency number at 928-774-4523 and the Flagstaff Police Department at 928-774-4114.
The National Forest has asked people not to call 911 about smoke or fires unless they are outside the fire perimeter or appear threatening. If you are unsure, call 911.
USPS holds mail from residents of tunnel fire area, Coconino County said in a tweet. Residents must report to the post office at 2400 Postal Blvd with photo ID to pick up mail. FedEx also holds packages at 5700 S. Pulliam Dr. Call 928-213-8234 or 928-864-9776 for more information.
Where are the shelters? How can I give or receive help?
A Red Cross shelter was opened at Sinagua Middle School at 3950 E. Butler Ave. in Flagstaff for people evacuated from areas affected by the tunnel fire, according to Coconino County. Animals are not allowed in the evacuation center.
Pets can be taken to the Coconino Humane Association at 3501 E. Butler Ave. in Flagstaff, and horses, goats, sheep, pigs and chickens can be taken to stables in Fort Tuthill County. The stables are self-service, so people are responsible for feeding and watering. Coconino County advised taking cages for small stock.
Northern Arizona University President José Luis Cruz Rivera announced Friday morning that the university will provide immediate housing, meal or emergency fund assistance to all loggers, according to a tweet from the university.
All students need to do is email email@example.com with information. The NAU leadership team is ready to assist any student in need.
People who have been affected by the fire and need help can visit the Coconino County Community Assistance Center located at 2695 E. Industrial Drive in Flagstaff from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
To apply for assistance and resources, including shelter, pet food, meal distribution, hygiene items, and financial assistance, residents can complete an online intake form at address https://www.coconino.az.gov/help.
According to District 2 Supervisor Jeronimo Vasquez, a behavioral crisis line is also available to residents 24/7 at 877-756-4090.
Evacuees can find more information on safety protocols and guidance on how to dispose of hazardous waste and spoiled food upon their return by visiting https://www.coconino.az.gov/2900/Re- Entry-Information.
For those who want to help those affected by the tunnel fire, Centraide and Salvation Army accept donations.
The Salvation Army flagpole accepts the following items:
- Clothing of different sizes (men, women and children)
- Food for small animals
- Personal Care/Hygiene Items
- Blankets and bedding
Drop off donated items at The Salvation Army Flagstaff, 3815 E Huntington Street Flagstaff
To donate to United Way of Northern Arizona, text UWNARESPONSE to 41444 or donate via the United Way website.
Firefighters take advantage of light wind conditions
Firefighters will continue to work around the Timberline Estates and Wupatki Trails subdivisions on Sunday, forestry officials said in a statement.
“Crews will continue to work spot fire on 89 Mesa and construct a line of fire in the Strawberry Crater Wilderness area,” the statement read.
On Sunday, 366 firefighters were working on the blaze.
Lighter wind conditions allowed fire crews to make progress in bringing the blaze under control, Osborne said at Saturday’s community meeting.
“Because of the lesser wind conditions, calmer winds that we had today, we were able to use a helicopter up there,” he said. “We will continue to operate the helicopter on the perimeter of the fire as long as the winds permit.”
According to Osborne, fire crews had not used helicopters to put out the blaze in recent days because windy conditions made it ineffective and dangerous for ground crews.
On Friday morning, an increase in humidity due to light rain and snowfall in the area helped fire crews to confine themselves. However, no precipitation is expected in the next few days.
“(Friday) the fire saw some light precipitation, they even saw some light snowfall, but not much snowfall, so it wasn’t really enough to have a big impact on the fire,” said Megan Taylor, meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Flagstaff, said.
Meteorologist Marvin Percha told a community meeting on Saturday that the weather over the next few days will be “much more favorable for firefighting conditions.”
Higher wind speeds are expected to increase early next week, with stronger winds expected Tuesday through Thursday. Wind gusts could reach 30 mph, according to the weather service.
Percha added that the change in wind direction combined with cooler temperatures will bring the smoke closer to residential areas, but he advised residents not to be alarmed.
“Just because you smell (smoke) tonight doesn’t mean the fire is closer,” Percha said.