Tunnel Fire burns nearly 20,000 acres; evacuation orders continue

More than 100 people came out for a community meeting on the Tunnel Fire and many of them are frustrated with the lack of answers.
Published: Apr. 20, 2022 at 9:52 AM MST
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FLAGSTAFF, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -- The Tunnel Fire grew to 19,712 acres on Wednesday afternoon, after nearly tripling in size overnight. The out-of-control wildfire is burning 14 miles northeast of Flagstaff. According to Dick Fleischman with the Coconino National Forest, there’s still no containment. U.S. Highway 89 remains closed north of Flagstaff and will likely stay that way for the new few days, forest officials said.

The Coconino County Sheriff’s Office estimates about 25 buildings have burned with hundreds of homes still threatened. The windy weather wasn’t as bad on Wednesday, but it’s expected to become windier Thursday and Friday with gusts up to 50 mph in most of northern Arizona.

On the plus side, Arizona Public Service employees started to assess the damage and restore power to certain areas impacted by the flames, the Coconino County Sheriff’s Office said on Wednesday afternoon. Some customers will receive alerts that electricity has been restored.

A Northern Arizona Type 3 team is managing the firefighting operations at the fire, with a Pacific Northwest Type 1 management team expected to arrive Thursday and managing operations by Friday morning. About 260 firefighters are battling the flames, using three dozers, 24 engines, one airplane, a Type 3 helicopter and other resources to put out the fire from the sky.

Early Wednesday morning, officials announced that a pop-up shelter for animals had been set up at Fort Tuthill County Fairground And Park. Arizona’s Family Ian Schwartz arrived to find about 20 horses and 30 sheep. Charlotte Peterson with the Coconino Humane Association says the county has lifted any camping fees for those needing shelter for their animals.

“We just saw the smoke ... We started getting ready to evacuate,” one woman told Schwartz, describing how quickly fire conditions changed. “We didn’t even get our ‘READY’ warning; we got the ‘SET’ warning instead. So, right when we got the “SET,” we threw all the animals in, left them in the trailers so we could drive him here as quickly as possible.”

Salvation Army is now accepting donations for victims of the Tunnel Fire. They need blankets, clothes—for adults and children, small animal feed, hygiene products and personal care products. These items can be dropped off at the Flagstaff Family Food Center Warehouse at 3815 E. Huntington Drive.

Evacuation orders

Last Updated: Wednesday, April 20 at 9:15 a.m.
  • Moon Crater
  • Areas north of Campbell east and west of Highway 89
  • East and west sides of Highway 89, from Campbell to Sunset Crater
  • Timberline area
  • All areas north of Lenox Road and south of Forest Service 545, including Wupatki Trails

For a complete list and map of the communities told to evacuate, click/tap here.

Breezy conditions will continue to be a battle for firefighters.

Winds hit about 50 mph on Tuesday, and they aren’t expected to let up much this week, authorities said. Arizona’s Family forecasted wind gusts of about 35 mph for Wednesday. No significant precipitation is in the forecast. “It’s blowing hard, and we have ash falling on the highway,” said Coconino County sheriff’s spokesman Jon Paxton.

More wildfires burning in our state

While the Tunnel Fire is currently the largest wildfire in Arizona, it isn’t the only fire burning in our state. The Crooks Fire is still burning south of Prescott, with more than 1,600 acres burned so far. The Prescott National Forest says a community meeting is being held Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. at the Embry Riddle Aeronautical University on Willow Creek Drive.

And another fire is almost out in Cochise County. The sheriff’s office says crews still are working to put out hotspots after a wildfire came close to the town of “Old Bisbee.” It burned about 50 acres prompting a pre-evacuation order until it was contained. Deputies say the fire is no longer a concern, and residents are free to go back to their homes.

Stay with Arizona’s Family for continuing coverage