24 buildings destroyed, 760+ homes evacuated in Tunnel Fire near Flagstaff

Published: Apr. 19, 2022 at 12:18 PM MST|Updated: Apr. 20, 2022 at 5:46 AM MST

FLAGSTAFF, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) - Coconino County has declared a wildfire emergency as a 16,000-acre wildfire burns out of control northeast of Flagstaff. County officials said on Tuesday night 766 homes and 1,000 animals have been evacuated because of the Tunnel Fire. Twenty-four buildings have been destroyed since the fire started on Sunday morning. It’s still listed at zero percent containment, according to Dick Fleischman with Coconino County National Forest.

The fire is about 14 miles northeast of Flagstaff near U.S. Highway 89. The wind whipped up the flames on Tuesday and pushed the wildfire over the highway. The fire was at just 11 acres around noon Tuesday, but then grew to 2,000 acres by 3:30 p.m. and 6,000 by 5 p.m. It grew another 10,000 acres overnight. Hundreds of buildings are still threatened, officials said on Tuesday night. Here’s a look at areas of people who were told to leave:

  • 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 map of the communities told to evacuate, click/tap here. A shelter has been set up at Sinagua Middle School in Flagstaff. Animals can’t be brought to the shelter so owners are encouraged to bring them to the Coconino Humane Association. Early Wednesday morning, officials announced that a pop-up shelter was being set up at Fort Tuthill County Fairground And Park.

Winds hit about 50 mph on Tuesday but aren’t expected to let up much this week, authorities said. “It’s blowing hard, and we have ash falling on the highway,” said Coconino County sheriff’s spokesman Jon Paxton. A top-level national fire management team is expected to take over the wildfire later this week.

Fire and law enforcement agencies that were knocking on doors to warn of evacuations Tuesday were forced to pull out to avoid getting trapped by the flames, Paxton said. Arizona Public Service Co. shut off power to about 625 customers to keep firefighters safe, a spokeswoman said.

About 200 firefighters are battling the flames with more on the way. The wildfire appeared to be moving to the northeast toward Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument and volcanic cinders, said Coconino National Forest spokesman Brady Smith. “It’s good in that it’s not headed toward a very populated area, and it’s headed toward less fuel,” he said. “But depending on the intensity of the fire, fire can still move across cinders.”

U.S. 89 is closed from Campbell Avenue to roughly Brandis Way while fire crews fight the flames. It’s the main route between Flagstaff and the far northern part of the state, and a primary route to and from Navajo Nation communities. The fire is burning through dry grass and brush with some Ponderosa pine in the area. The cause of the Tunnel Fire is under investigation.

The latest conditions and updates can be found on the county website here. InciWeb updates can be found here.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.