The Tunnel Fire was first reported on Sunday, April 17, northeast of Flagstaff shortly before 4:30 p.m. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.
As the fire grew, burning over 21,000 acres, it quickly prompted evacuations and displaced residents.
Arizona’s wildfire season, which got off to an early start this year, could be even more catastrophic in 2022 than in previous years, fire officials have said.
Follow coverage of the Tunnel Fire by Republic reporters here.
Criticism:Tunnel Fire came ‘racing down the hill’; residents say response was slow
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.
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.
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.
– P. Kim Bui
The investigation into the cause of the Tunnel Fire is being facilitated by Southwestern Region 3 USDA Forest Service Law Enforcement and Investigations office.
The office is not affiliated with any specific forest, but rather covers the region of Arizona and New Mexico, Coconino National Forest said on Twitter.
The Tunnel Fire is currently at 30% containment with 363 personnel members and over 19,000 acres burned.
Those who wish to get in contact with the LEI office can call 505-842-3196.
The Tunnel Fire burning 14 miles northeast of Flagstaff remained at 19,344 acres and 30% containment as of Wednesday morning.
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.
Rep. Tom O’Halleran, who represents Arizona’s 1st Congressional District, will host a telephone town hall on Wednesday at 5 p.m. to discuss the Tunnel Fire.
O’Halleran will be joined by Jake Nuttall, Southwestern region fire and aviation director for the U.S. National Forest Service, to discuss Arizona wildfires and mitigation.
Flagstaff and surrounding areas to the northeast, where the Tunnel Fire has burned more than 21,000 acres, fall within the 1st Congressional District.
Those interested can join by calling 833-998-2637.
The Red Cross, along with Coconino County, are assisting those affected by the Tunnel Fire at The Community Assistance Center in Flagstaff.
The Red Cross is providing recovery services and emergency supplies, while also urging residents to remain safe upon returning home from evacuation.
Tips provided by the Red Cross include wearing protective gloves and heavy-soled shoes, as well as discarding exposed food and contaminated water.
The Community Assistance Center is located at 2187 North Vickey Street, Flagstaff Ariz., 86004. Virtual services will also be available beginning Thursday, April 28.
The National Weather Service in Flagstaff issued a red flag warning and fire weather watch for the upcoming days.
The red fire warning will be in effect for from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 27, while the fire weather watch will be in effect from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday, April 28.
The area of the fire watch includes where Tunnel Fire continues to burn, 14 miles northeast of Flagstaff.
According to the weather service, the criteria for a red flag warning includes frequent gust of 25 mph or more along with dry thunderstorms.
A fire weather watch alerts land management agencies for potential development of red flag criteria.
The U.S. Forest Service and Coconino National Forest were urging public involvement in protecting shared land as it continues to search for a cause to the Tunnel Fire, which has burned over 21,000 acres northwest of Flagstaff.
As of Tuesday morning, the Tunnel Fire was at 20% containment.
“A wildland fire origin and cause investigation is being conducted on the Tunnel Fire. That investigation remains ongoing. The purpose of a wildland fire investigation is to determine the origin, cause, ignition sequence, and responsible party,” the U.S. Forest Service said on Twitter.
There is currently no timeline for the conclusion of its investigation.
The Coconino National Forest reported that the containment of the fire grew overnight to 20%.
Firefighters battling the wildfire prepared for increased wind speeds as efforts to control the blaze continued. Wind speeds were expected to reach between 15-20 mph, with gusts up to 35 mph.
The Tunnel Fire has now burned 21,216 acres northeast of Flagstaff, according to InciWeb.
The growth is a slight increase from 21,164 acres, which was reported early Monday morning. Containment for the fire remains at 15%.
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 Navajo Department of Emergency Management is assisting those affected by the Tunnel Fire by providing food, animal feed and hay. Flagstaff’s Family Food Center is also providing assistance.
“I know a lot of people say ‘why are resources going to non-Navajos?’” said Navajo President Jonathan Nez. “But a lot of non-Navajos helped us during the pandemic and so this is our way of giving back as well. We want to make sure everyone is taken care of.”
Many residents had to evacuate with short notice, only able to grab a few belongings.
“You hear about the ‘ready, set, go’ practices, but when you’re in the process of doing it the emotions are pretty disturbing to think of all your possessions being wiped out,” resident Eric Descheenie said.
Tunnel Fire: Navajo Nation distributes supplies for evacuees
Light smoke and haze was expected around the Tunnel Fire on Monday and Tuesday, according to the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality.
“This morning, smoke can be seen draining to the north-northeast toward the Little Colorado River. Smoke that is produced today is forecast to move toward the north-northwest, with light smoke possible in Cameron and Tuba City,” the smoke forecast stated.
“Overnight, expecting a very similar pattern as this morning with smoke draining toward the north-northeast with only light smoke/haze expected in the Doney Park area.”
An activity meter provided by ADEQ suggests that those in the areas near and around Tunnel Fire should stay smoke aware.
Tunnel Fire was at 15% containment, according to InciWeb. The containment is an increase from 3% on Sunday.
Currently at 21,164 acres, the update comes a day after evacuation orders were lifted and U.S. Highway 89 reopened.
There are 430 personnel members aiding in fire suppression efforts.
According to the Arizona Department of Transportation, U.S. 89 reopened Sunday around 12:30 p.m. after being closed for about five days due to the Tunnel Fire.
The Coconino County Sheriff’s Office announced Saturday night that a “go” evacuation order will be lifted for residents living in neighborhoods along U.S. 89 as of 9 a.m. on Sunday. Tunnel Fire Incident Management Team determined that the status and condition of the fire is no longer an “imminent threat” to the area.
According to the Arizona Department of Transportation, U.S. 89 northbound lanes are closed at milepost 425; the southbound lanes are closed at milepost 445. It’s estimated the highway will reopen around 1 p.m.
— Staff Reports
In a daily fire update, InciWeb stated that firefighters continue to manage the Tunnel Fire while urging residents to remain cautious upon returning home.
“Firefighters will continue to work within the Timberline Estates and Wupatki Trails Subdivisions. Crews are constructing line between O’Leary Peak and Black Mountain and may conduct burnout operations to secure fireline if needed,” the fire update stated. “Crews will continue working the spot fire on 89 Mesa and construct fireline in the Strawberry Crater Wilderness area. Patrol and mop-up will continue along Forest Road 545 on the southern edge of the fire.”
As of Sunday morning, the Tunnel Fire is at 3% containment across 21,164 acres.
The Coconino County Sheriff’s Office is lifting a “go” evacuation order at 9 a.m. Sunday for residents living in neighborhoods along U.S. 89.
The Tunnel Fire Incident Management Team determined that the fire is not an imminent threat to neighborhoods along U.S. 89 and has recommended allowing residents back into their homes, according to a Sheriff’s Office Facebook post.
Residents returning to these neighborhoods will return to a “set” status, the Sheriff’s Office said.
That includes the neighborhoods of Timberline, Fernwood, Wupatki Trails, Girls Ranch Road, and Lenox Park.
The Coconino National Forest in that area, including the Cinder Lakes OHV Area, will remain closed, due to a temporary closure order from the U.S. Forest Service.
The downgrade from “go” to “set” is mainly applicable for private properties within these areas.
The Incident Management Team and the Sheriff’s Office sought to remind residents that the fire could change at any time, resulting in the return of a “go” evacuation status.
Officials said they will continue to monitor the situation and will communicate any changes as soon as possible.
The Sheriff’s Office will begin reentry of residents at 9 a.m. Sunday. Residents must 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. Residents are required to check in before entering their neighborhoods.
U.S. 89 will remain closed until 1 p.m. Sunday.
— Staff reports
The Coconino National Forest posted on Twitter images of the Sunset Crater visitor center showing the structure still intact.
In a Facebook post on Wednesday, National Park Service officials said the popular monument, northeast of Flagstaff, was completely burned over by the Tunnel Fire.
“We were also able to successfully evacuate all culturally important items from the visitor center,” officials said. “For those who worried, the Kabotie painting, corn rock, Qa’na Katsina doll, and other items are safe.”
— Staff Reports
At one of the biggest fires near Flagstaff, Arizona, where 30 homes and numerous other buildings have been destroyed, authorities said they had used sirens and alarms Thursday night to warn residents to flee evacuation areas but howling winds muffled the alarms.
Kelly Morgan is among neighbors at the edge of the Tunnel Fire evacuation zone who did not leave their homes. She and her husband have lived through wildfires before, she said, and they are prepared if winds shift and flames race toward the home they moved into three years ago.
“Unfortunately, it’s not something new to us … but I hate seeing it when people are affected the way they are right now,” she said. “It’s sad. It’s a very sad time. But as a community, we’ve really come together.”
— The Associated Press
Scattered rain and snow showers in northern Arizona on Friday were not enough to douse hot spots across the Tunnel Fire. High winds were drying out the area after the showers.
Firefighters continued to try to build a line around the fire as two major areas remained active even with the moisture, including in the Schultz Fire burn scar and the Strawberry Crater Wilderness, according to the Coconino National Forest.
Crews mopped up hot spots in the Timberline Estates and Wupatki Trails subdivisions, while crews built a line around the edge of the fire between O’Leary Peak and Black Mountain.
— Staff reports
The Tunnel Fire has forced many Navajo families to evacuate, and the flames have cost at least one family their home.
Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said about 20 Navajo families had to evacuate, and he knew of one family whose home burned. He said he met with the families Wednesday. Some are staying with relatives, in hotels in Flagstaff or at the hotel at Twin Arrows Navajo Casino.
Nez said the nation will distribute hay and other livestock necessities for the impacted families early Saturday morning.
“The families of course were heartbroken, scared, but we tried to keep them upbeat,” said Nez on meeting with the families. “I hope having them know the Navajo Nation is helping lifts their spirits.”
— Arlyssa Becenti
Two men were arrested Thursday night in Flagstaff after authorities say they entered the Tunnel Fire evacuation zone in the Timberline Community.
According to the Coconino County Sheriff’s Office, one man attempted to drive into the closed evacuation area in an off-road vehicle while under the influence, while the other ran a roadblock into the closure area.
When the second man fled the scene on foot, he almost struck a deputy and a public works employee, the sheriff’s office said.
Both men were arrested, each on separate charges, according to the Sheriff’s Office.
— Amaris Encinas
Coconino County officials announced they will hold a Tunnel Fire community meeting at 2 p.m. Saturday, April 23, at Sinagua Middle School at 3950 E. Butler Ave. in Flagstaff.
This meeting will provide an update regarding the fire conditions, potential flood risk and evacuation status.
— Staff reports
Northern Arizona University President José Luis Cruz Rivera issued a statement seeking assistance to help university students “whose lives have been deeply affected by the fire.”
In the release, Cruz Rivera suggested donating to the United Way of Northern Arizona Crisis Fund. He also said he authorized a $25,000 donation to the United Way of Northern Arizona Crisis Fund and $25,000 to the Lumberjack Emergency Assistance Fund — both from the President’s Discretionary Community Engagement Fund.
“We stand ready to help those in need,” Cruz Rivera said, “and send our thanks and appreciation to first responders and the team at Coconino County responding on the front lines of the fire.”
The Tunnel Fire is 3% contained according to the Coconino National Forest.
Firefighters battling the blaze in northeast Flagstaff continue to wait to see if established lines around many parts of the 20,924-acre fire hold up to Friday’s critical fire weather and strong winds.
Firefighting efforts will continue to focus on protecting homes and property on the west side of the fire.
The National Weather Service reported some rainfall over the area of the fire.
Authorities say 30 homes have been burned plus additional outbuildings destroyed when a wind-driven wildfire ripped though rural neighborhoods near Flagstaff, Arizona, on Tuesday.
A reprieve in the weather Thursday enabled officials to enter the evacuated area to assess damage. Authorities previously estimated that 30 structures were burned but had no breakdown of that figure. The reprieve also allowed firefighters to attack flames from the air. However, firefighters battling a half-dozen wildfires in the Southwest are bracing for the return of ferocious winds on Friday.
Authorities are deploying additional top-level management teams and more firefighting crews.
— Associated Press
It’s going to be a windy day up north, likely impacting fire fighting efforts.
The National Weather Service is warning of strong, southwest winds that will increase Friday morning across Arizona. The weather service has also issued wind advisories for most of northern Arizona.
According to the Arizona Department of Transportation, U.S. 89 remains closed in both directions between mileposts 425 and 445 north of Flagstaff with no estimated time of reopening.
There is a chance that U.S. 89 may reopen before the weekend depending on weather conditions, the U.S. Forest Service said Thursday night.
— Staff reports
The Coconino Forest Service said in a press release that helicopters helped with fire suppression efforts, while ground crews made progress dousing hotspots around the fire’s western flank.
There are currently 371 firefighters, nine 20-person hand crews, five dozers, 30 engines, one air attack plane, two Type-1 helicopters and one Type-3 helicopter assisting in fire suppression efforts.
“Even though we haven’t declared a percentage of containment on this fire yet, there has been a lot of work, progress, and investment on line construction around many parts of the Tunnel Fire,” said Deputy Incident Commander Shelby Erickson. “However, we won’t be declaring areas with line around them as ‘contained’ until we’re confident the line will hold during the forecasted high and shifting winds through the next few days.”
A Forest Closure Order has been issued for the affected areas of the Tunnel Fire.
The National Weather Service in Flagstaff expect peak wind gusts to affect areas in and around the Tunnel Fire.
“It will remain windy overnight, especially at locations downwind of higher terrain features. These areas will see southwest wind gusts over 40 mph, especially after Midnight MST through sunrise Friday. These higher gusts will affect areas in and around the Tunnel Fire.” the weather service said on Twitter.
In a Facebook post Wednesday, National Park Service officials said the popular monument, northeast of Flagstaff, was completely burned over by the Tunnel Fire.
“Sadly, Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument has burned in its entirety,” the Facebook post read.
Active fires are still burning near the monument, which remains closed. There is no set date for its reopening.
Coconino National Forest, along with partner organizations, are weighing the option for a campfire ban.
“Campfire & smoking restriction discussions between adjacent National Forests, National Parks, State Agencies and the National Weather Service generally begins in mid-April depending on forest conditions and weather forecasts. We appreciate your patience in this process,” Coconino National Forest said on Twitter.
Coconino County is offering its Community Assistance Center for those affected by the Tunnel Fire. The center is open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. at 2695 E. Industrial Drive, Flagstaff, Ariz. 86004.
Those looking for assistance online can fill out this form to request additional support and resources.
St. Mary’s Food Bank sent a truckload of bottled water and snacks for firefighters from the Tunnel Fire on Wednesday, according to spokesperson Jerry Brown. The food bank is also assisting families impacted by the fire with the help of the Flagstaff Family Food Center and sent 100 emergency food boxes on Thursday.
Brown said they will send more boxes and will be standing by with more resources as needed.
In a news release, Gov. Doug Ducey declared a state of emergency for the Tunnel Fire in Coconino County.
“Our team is on the ground working with first responders to monitor the Tunnel Fire in Coconino County,” Ducey said in the news release.
“Our prayers are with the residents affected by the fire and we encourage everyone in the area to follow the guidance of fire officials, stay safe and respond to any evacuation notices. We will continue to monitor the situation and deploy additional resources as necessary.”
The Tunnel Fire has covered a northwest portion of Black Bill Park and is burning in the Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument.
The Wupatki National Monuments is also shut down due to the Tunnel Fire.
The scenic loop drive connecting the monuments is also closed and there is no admittance at this time.
The Coconino County Sheriff’s Office announced new evacuation orders due to the Tunnel Fire burning northeast of Flagstaff.
Areas affected include Highway 89 from Campbell Road to Antelope Hills, milepost 434.5.
Highway 89 is closed in both directions from Silversaddle Road to Antelope Hills until further notice.
As of Thursday morning, the fire had grown to 20,511 acres, and The National Weather Service in Flagstaff issued a red flag warning for parts of northern Arizona, including Flagstaff, between 11 a.m. and 8 p.m. Thursday due to high winds and low humidity.
Tony Merriman, a meteorologist with NWS Flagstaff, told The Arizona Republic that the area is expected to have high winds with gusts up to 35 mph. Merriman said that the winds, coupled with low humidity, create an environment where a wildfire could quickly grow out of control.
U.S. Highway 89 was closed from milepost 425 to 445 with no estimated reopening time, according to the Arizona Department of Transportation.
According to the Coconino County Situational Awareness Viewer, the following areas were to evacuate:
The areas that should prepare for possible evacuation orders are:
People who have evacuated their home due to the Tunnel Fire were asked to contact the call center at 928-679-8525. According to Coconino County, they are experiencing a high call volume but will respond to all voicemails.
Those unsure about an evacuation notice or who feel it might be a scam can call law enforcement agencies to confirm evacuation stages. The Coconino County Sheriff’s Office asked to call its non-emergency number at 928-774-4523 and Flagstaff Police Department at 928-774-4114.
Keep track of fires actively burning in Arizona with our map, as compiled by the wildfire tracking website InciWeb, which is operated by the U.S. Forest Service. It will be updated throughout the fire season.
The Tunnel Fire was first reported on Sunday, April 17, northeast of Flagstaff shortly before 4:30 p.m. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.