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Evacuations lifted for Tunnel Fire; US 89 reopens

The fire is so massive that it would nearly cover the entire city of Apache Junction.
Published: Apr. 24, 2022 at 10:31 AM MST|Updated: Apr. 24, 2022 at 9:39 PM MST
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FLAGSTAFF, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -- The Coconino County Sheriff’s Office lifted all evacuation orders as firefighters continued working to contain the Tunnel Fire burning near Flagstaff. But they are still asking those in the community to be ready at a moment’s notice should conditions change.

“What I did here saved every bit of my property,” Gary Sharpe said. He showed Arizona’s Family how he’d used a backhoe to protect his home. After he finished his home, he tried to do the same at his neighbor’s property but the flames moved too quickly.

“My neighbors, I watched their homes burn,” he said.

His neighbor Dave Barthman, a Vietnam veteran, lost his home. He got emotional talking about the loss of his uniform, his medals, and photos of his family. “Losing all the memorabilia is tragic, I know, but life carries on,” Barthman said.

He told Arizona’s Family he doesn’t plan to rebuild.

Current estimates place it at 21,164 acres with only 3% containment. The fire is so massive that it would nearly cover the entire city of Apache Junction. More than 350 firefighters are on the front lines. Gov. Doug Ducey declared a state of emergency Thursday as the fire caused devastation throughout portions of Coconino County.

Over the weekend, Coconino County posted photos from Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument on Facebook, showing “significant damage” to the maintenance area because of the fire. The Tunnel Fire has burned 30 homes and destroyed outbuildings on dozens of properties.

“By the time the evacuation orders came in to get out, the fire was already here,” James Bedlion said. Bedlion said he worked for the Forest Service for 30 years. He argued their decision to contain, instead of suppressing the fire allowed it to spread.

“They were responsible and they are responsible. They need to be held accountable. There needs to be an investigation on the fire,” Bedlion said.

At a community meeting Saturday, the county said an outside agency would conduct an investigation into what caused the fire and how the response was handled.

U.S. 89 reopens reopen

Buried in the morning’s announcement was big news for travelers. Highway 89 reopened at 1 p.m. on Sunday. The road has been closed for nearly a week, causing travelers to make about an 80-mile or more detour through Leupp on the Navajo Nation or the Grand Canyon.

Those living near the Tunnel Fire are pressing for answers as nearly 30 homes have been consumed by the wildfire.