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Forest crew accidentally sparked Museum Fire in northern Arizona

(Instagram Photo)

PHOENIX – Forest Service investigators in Arizona said a spark from a rock strike during a restoration project started the Museum Fire earlier this summer.

The accident set off what would become a 1,961-acre blaze in the Coconino National Forest that lasted from July 21 until full containment was declared Aug. 15.

Crews that were working the Flagstaff watershed protection project on a steep slope likely hit a rock during excavation. A spark caught and smoldered before winds fanned it into flames, investigators believed, about 14 hours before the fire was reported.

“It’s unfortunate that the Museum Fire started as the result of ongoing restoration work designed to reduce the risk of uncharacteristic wildfire and improve forest health and resiliency,” Coconino Forest Supervisor Laura Jo West said in a statement.

A preliminary report said that all equipment used on the project had been inspected beforehand and that the worker using the piece had stayed for an hour afterward the task was finished to check for smoke.

“The restoration work initiated by the Flagstaff Watershed Protection Project, in partnership with the Forest Service, is incredibly valuable and we remain committed to continuing this work and further protecting our watershed,” Flagstaff Mayor Coral Evans said a press release.

The Forest Service said analysis showed that 50% of the fire had burned at low severity, 38% burned at moderate severity and 12% burned at high severity.

The Arizona Daily Sun reported it cost more than $12 million to put out the blaze.

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