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Tunnel Fire: 19,344 acres, 30% containment; restrictions coming to national forests

Arizona Republic 4/28/2022 Arizona Republic

The Tunnel Fire burning 14 miles northeast of Flagstaff remained at 19,344 acres and 30% containment as of Wednesday evening.  

The fire, burning across U.S. 89, was reported shortly before 4:30 p.m. on April 17, and its cause is under investigation, according to InciWeb, a government website that tracks wildfires.

Rep. Tom O'Halleran and Jake Nuttall, U.S. Forest Service Southwestern Region fire and aviation director, hosted a town hall Wednesday to hear from those impacted by the fire.

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Nuttall said the five national forests in Arizona are evaluating what restrictions to impose. He said stage one restrictions will be imposed in a "majority" of the forests throughout the next week. These restrictions help mitigate the risk of new fires starting in Arizona by controlling campfires and smoking.

The remains of a home lie in Flagstaff, Arizona, on April 25, 2022, after the Tunnel Fire hit the area. © Megan Mendoza/Arizona Republic The remains of a home lie in Flagstaff, Arizona, on April 25, 2022, after the Tunnel Fire hit the area.

Wildfire restrictions are posted on the Arizona Interagency Wildfire Prevention website.

"Arizonans need solutions," to preventing forest fires, O'Halleran said.

"This is the earliest we've ever gone into preparedness in the southwest, April 19," he said.

Many areas near the fire remain under "set" status, meaning residents should be ready to evacuate. "Set" is the middle step of the state's three-step evacuation framework.

The Coconino County Sheriff’s Office reported Thursday night that about 109 properties were impacted by the fire, including 30 burned residences and 24 properties with destroyed outbuildings, forest officials said.

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, the west of Black Bottom Crater and south of the Deadman Mesa mountain peak.  

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

The western portion of the 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 fuels that the Schultz Fire left are likely helping to spread new fires. 

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

Fire outlook: Red flag warning issued

A red flag warning will be in effect on Wednesday from 11 a.m. until 7 p.m. in areas east of the wildfire such as Winslow and Holbrook. According to the National Weather Service, this type of warning means that critical fire weather conditions are either occurring or about to occur, and they can cause extreme fire behavior. 

"The combination of gusty winds and low humidity can cause fire to rapidly grow in size and intensity before first responders can contain them," the National Weather Service website states. 

Winds with speeds around 20 mph are also expected Wednesday, according to InciWeb. Localized hot areas of active fire behavior with low spread in dead and down fuels are anticipated.

A fire weather watch will be in effect on Thursday from 11 a.m. until 7 p.m. meaning that critical fire weather conditions are possible. The locations affected by the watch include the Tunnel Fire area.

As of late Wednesday morning, 363 fire personnel were working on the fire. 

On Tuesday, firefighters focused their efforts in the Black Mountain and Strawberry Crater Wilderness areas. They continued to put out remaining hot spots near control lines too. 

Firefighters also patrolled the fireline along Forest Roads 420 and 545 and in the Timberline and Wupaki Trails communities.


Video: Raging Arizona wildfire forces evacuations (CBS News)

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In a video update Wednesday incident commander Randy Johnson said firefighters made progress in all aspects of the fire on Tuesday. 

The fire will be in patrol status on Wednesday and Johnson said they weren't finding a lot of heat sources so they were feeling "pretty good" about that. Crews will continue returning equipment that is no longer needed and will begin to repair disturbances caused by suppression efforts. 

Johnson also said they are ready to assist in any new fires that may happen in the area.

Information for residents returning home after evacuation for Tunnel Fire

Late Saturday, all neighborhoods previously evacuated were put back in "set' status, allowing residents to return home

"Residents returning to the area are reminded that the conditions and status of evacuation levels could change at any time based on fire behavior," the Coconino County National Forest officials said in a statement.

According to the Coconino County Situational Awareness Viewer, the areas that should prepare for possible evacuation orders are:

  • South and north of Campbell Avenue, west of U.S. 89.
  • South and north of Campbell Avenue, east of U.S. 89.
  • Antelope Hills.
  • Moon Crater.

Neighborhoods that changed from "go" to "set" status effective Sunday morning include 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 N. U.S. 89 in Flagstaff. Residents will be required to show identification or other documents verifying their address before they are allowed entry. Once the check-in process is completed, residents will be able to access their properties.

The Coconino County Sheriff's Office and National Forest said as residents return, people should be aware of expected "by-products" of the wildfire.

"Examples of hazards include fire weakened trees that may fall without warning, loss of ground vegetation can loosen rolling debris and rocks and ash pits from stumps may look benign, but will hold hot ash for quite a while and can cause severe burns if stepped in," forest officials said in a statement Sunday.

"Should you observe hazardous tree or structure issues, we ask you to contact the appropriate agency on their non-emergency numbers to address these problems," said the Coconino County Sheriff's Office.

USPS is holding mail for the Tunnel Fire area residents, Coconino County said in a tweet. Residents should go to the postal office at 2400 Postal Blvd with a picture ID to pick up mail. FedEx is also holding packages at 5700 S. Pulliam Dr. Call 928-213-8234 or 928-864-9776 for more information.

How can I give or receive help?

NAU assistance

Northern Arizona University President José Luis Cruz Rivera announced Friday morning that the university will provide immediate assistance with housing, meals, or emergency funds for all Lumberjacks, according to a tweet by the university.

All students need to do is email president@nau.edu with information. NAU's leadership team is on standby to assist any students in need.

Assistance for residents affected

People who have been affected by the fire and are in need of assistance 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 request support and resources including shelter, pet food, meal distribution, hygiene items, and financial assistance, residents can fill out an intake form online at https://www.coconino.az.gov/help.

According to Jeronimo Vasquez, District 2 supervisor, a behavioral crisis line is also available to residents 24/7 at 877-756-4090.

Evacuees can find more information on safety protocols and indications of how to dispose of hazardous waste and spoiled food upon returning by visiting https://www.coconino.az.gov/2900/Re-Entry-Information. 

For those who want to provide assistance to people impacted by the Tunnel Fire, the United Way and Salvation Army are accepting donations.

The Salvation Army Flagstaff is accepting the following items:

  • Various size clothes (men, women, and children sizes)
  • Small animal feed/food
  • Personal care/hygiene items
  • Blankets and bedding

Drop off donated items at The Salvation Army Flagstaff, 3815 E Huntington Street, Flagstaff.

Fire aid: Navajo Nation distributes food, hay for evacuees of Tunnel Fire

To donate to United Way of Northern Arizona, text UWNARESPONSE TO 41444 or donate via the United Way website.

Highlands Fire District is also collecting donations, including:

  • Baby Items
  • Clothing
  • Gift Cards
  • Household Items

Drop off donations with a Highlands fire employee at Highlands Fire District Station 23, at 3350 Old Munds Highway, instead of leaving the items outside.

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Tunnel Fire: 19,344 acres, 30% containment; restrictions coming to national forests

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