Wind keeps pushing Tunnel Fire across northern Arizona wildland
PHOENIX – Hundreds of people northeast of Flagstaff remain evacuated from their homes as the Tunnel Fire pushed further forward by thousands of acres.
The wildfire grew to nearly 20,200 acres by late Thursday, according to InciWeb, as wind continued to whip flames across the area and away from northern Arizona’s largest city.
Coconino County officials said 30 structures have gone up in flames and 766 homes were evacuated. U.S. 89 remains closed in both directions between mileposts 425-445.
“The decision to get you back in is one that’s going to be made in conjunction with fire incident command,” Sheriff Jim Driscoll told residents at a community meeting Wednesday evening.
“We don’t make this on our own. When it is safe, we will have that discussion.”
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey declared a state of emergency Thursday to increase resources for dealing with the destructive blaze.
Residents around Flagstaff questioned how a small blaze reported northeast of the college town Sunday afternoon ballooned to such an extent by Wednesday afternoon.
Matt McGrath, a district ranger at Coconino National Forest, said firefighters had corralled the wildfire Sunday and didn’t see any smoke or active flames when they checked on it again Monday.
By Tuesday, the wind was firmly in control. Flames jumped the containment line, leaving firefighters and McGrath to ask themselves if they could have done something differently, he said.
“I can’t tell you for sure, but I don’t think so,” McGrath said. “And I know that’s not a satisfying answer when people are going through what they’re going through right now.”
Just over 370 personnel have been assigned to the fire.
A Type 1 Incident Management Team from the Pacific Northwest will take over fire operations Friday.
KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Jim Cross and the Associated Press contributed to this report.