FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – A large wildfire that has burned outside Flagstaff, Arizona, for more than a week has so far burned more than 21,000 acres and is 20% contained.
Winds are expected to shift to the southwest and increase in speed Tuesday through Thursday, with possible gusts to 40 mph on Thursday. The fire weather conditions are expected to reach record-breaking levels for this time of year, the Coconino National Forest Office said.
Incident Commander Randy Johnson said fire crews took advantage of the dry and warm conditions on Monday to continue securing the fireline ahead of the expected winds later this week.
The Tunnel Fire began on April 17 and almost tripled in size in a matter of 24 hours.
Residents were able to re-enter the previously-evacuated neighborhoods on Sunday. U.S. Highway 89 was also re-opened as firefighters continue to mop up, patrol and secure the existing fireline while constructing a new fireline to the northeast portion of the fire.
Residents who have returned or are planning on returning soon are being reminded that conditions and fire behavior can change rapidly and need to be prepared to immediately evacuate if needed.
"The landscape is very dynamic immediately after a fire, and travel within the fire area can be hazardous," officials said in their daily fire update. "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."
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The Coconino County Community Development and the Arizona Department of Emergency Management traveled to the Tunnel Fire burn area to begin property damage assessments for recovery services and emergency declaration documentation purposes. The Tunnel Fire Call Center has also been making contact with property owners who were impacted by the fire and gathering more information about their specific needs to recover.
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.
Favorable winds on Monday allowed for aviation to assist hand crews as they corralled the northeast edge of the fire in the Strawberry Crater Wilderness Area.
A 4,000-gallon portable water site, known as a "heliwell," has been set up along Forest Road 545 near Painted Desert Vista. This will greatly reduce the turnaround time for helicopters to be able to support mop-up, cold trailing and line construction on the northeast portion of the fire, officials said.
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey has 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."