Expected critical fire conditions; 19,000 acres burned
Firefighters continued to better control the Tunnel Fire that was burning 14 miles northeast of Flagstaff, its size remaining at 19,075 acres and 89% contained as of Saturday morning.
The blaze, burning across US 89, was reported shortly before 4:30 p.m. on April 17, and its cause was under investigation, according to InciWeb, a government website that tracks wildfires.
The Coconino County Sheriff’s Office reported April 21 that about 109 properties were affected by the fire, including 30 burned residences and 24 properties with destroyed outbuildings, forestry officials said.
Containment defines the amount of the perimeter of the fire surrounded by a line of control that the fire will not cross.
Critical fire weather conditions were expected for the weekend, according to the National Weather Service in Flagstaff.
A red flag warning and fire weather watch was issued Sunday for most of northern Arizona, including parts of Yavapai, Coconino, Navajo, Apache and Gila counties due to low humidity and strong winds expected, the weather service said in a Saturday statement.
The weather may look more favorable early in the week with very light breezes, but critical fire conditions could return midweek, the weather service said.
According to NWS Flagstaff, the dry weather and strong gusts could potentially lead to a higher risk of fire starts or the rapid spread of existing fires.
Fire crews were expected to remain on the blaze for several days to patrol for smoke and clear hot spots as needed, complete transportation of equipment no longer in use, and complete suppression repairs.
Once the work is complete, resources will be freed up and made available to respond to other priority fires in the South West, according to InciWeb.
The U.S. Forest Service announced Friday that the Coconino National Forest will enter Stage 1 fire and smoking restrictions beginning May 5 at 8 a.m. There are three stages of fire restrictions that can be put in place by the United States National Forest Service outlined here on their website.
The city of Flagstaff will also enter Stage 1 fire restrictions, with details of the restrictions in the city listed here.
Where is the Tunnel Fire burning?
The fire was 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 of Deadman Mesa mountain peak.
The Tunnel Fire covered a northwest portion of Black Bill Park and was burning in Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument. The fire also reached Black Mountain.
The western part of the tunnel fire was burning 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. The fuels left over from the Schultz fire likely helped to spread the fires again.
From Friday morning, 338 firefighters were working on the blaze.
Residents go home
Thursday evening, the districts put in “defined” status by the authorities were downgraded to “ready”. Ready is the first step in the state’s three-step evacuation framework.
Areas included Timberline, Fernwood, Lenox Park, Girls Ranch Road, Wupatki Estates, Antelope Hills and residences east/northeast of Moon Crater in Alpine Ranchos, according to the Coconino County Sheriff’s Office.
The downgrading of evacuation orders applies primarily to private properties and neighborhoods located in the Highway 89 corridor north of Campbell Avenue to the north entrance of Forest Service Road 545 also known as the name Wupatki National Monument.
“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. .
These areas of the Coconino National Forest, including the Cinder Lakes off-road vehicle (OHV) area, will remain closed due to a temporary closure order from the U.S. Forest Service, the sheriff’s office said.
Forest Service Route 545 will be closed until further notice from Highway 89 at mile post 12 through Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, the sheriff’s office said.
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.
The USPS is holding mail from residents of the 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 was also holding packages at 5700 S. Pulliam Drive. Call 928-213-8234 or 928-864-9776 for more information.
How can I give or receive help?
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.
Help for disaster-stricken residents
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. Grocery cards are available by filling out a form.
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, United Way and the Salvation Army are accepting donations.
The Salvation Army flagpole accepts the following items:
- Different clothing sizes (men, women and children)
- Food for small animals
- Personal Care/Hygiene Items
- Blankets and bedding
Drop off donated items at Salvation Army Flagstaff, 3815 E. Huntington Street, Flagstaff.
To donate to United Way of Northern Arizona, text UWNARESPONSE to 41444 or donate through the United Way website.
Highlands Fire District also collects donations, including:
- Baby items.
- Gift cards.
- Household items.
Drop off your donations with a Highlands Fire Department employee at Highlands Fire District Station 23, 3350 Old Munds Highway, instead of leaving the items outside.
Reporters Angela Cordoba Perez and Amaris Encinas contributed to this article.
Support local journalism. Subscribe to azcentral.com today.