FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – Firefighters are making progress building lines around a wildfire burning northeast of Flagstaff, Arizona.
Additional resources are allowing firefighting efforts to expand to the east on the Tunnel Fire located about 14 miles northeast of Flagstaff. This comes as fire crews wait to see if established lines around many parts of the 21,164-acre fire hold up to Friday's critical fire weather and strong winds.
The Coconino County Sheriff’s Office said that an estimated 109 properties were impacted by the fire, including 30 residences that were burned and 24 properties with outbuildings destroyed. Containment is now up to 3%, and the cause of the fire is still under investigation.
On Thursday, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey declared a State of Emergency for Coconino County "to assist impacted communities with the resources needed to respond to and recover from the fire’s destruction."
While helicopters have been able to help out, fire crews are cautious about containment numbers. They still don’t know if some of their lines are going to hold due to high winds, even though the area has seen some rain and lower temperatures with the arrival of a cold front. Shifting winds out of the north and east forecast for Saturday and Sunday are also a major concern for fire managers.
The Tunnel Fire was first reported on April 17. Fire managers say they contained the blaze and couldn't see any active flames the next day. But by Tuesday, the wind took over, sending the fire across containment lines.
Hundreds of firefighters, bulldozers, helicopters and an air-attack plane are helping to fight the wildfire.
Since the start of the fire, firefighting efforts have focused on protecting homes and property on the west side of the fire – namely Timberline Estates and Wupatki Trails subdivisions, as well as along Forest Road 420.
"The past few days has just been kind of a nightmare. All of these people are losing their homes, and it’s very sad to see. We just pray every day that it doesn’t come to us," said Sean McEntire, a homeowner whose house is in the evacuation zone but chose to stay with his family.
While crews were working to fight the fire, a spot fire, currently estimated at 100 to 150 acres, broke out about 9 p.m. Mountain time in Division Alpha in the area of 89 Mesa. In addition, a portion of Highway 89 remains closed, and hundreds of homes in the area have been evacuated.
Officials here say they could reopen Highway 89 before the weekend, though it’s still not clear when evacuees will be able to return to their homes.
However, a lot will depend on the progress made Friday and what the winds will bring.