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Flagstaff Homeless Population Particularly Vulnerable to Museum Fire Flooding

Ryan Heinsius

Flagstaff officials and many residents remain on edge about possible flooding from the Museum Fire. But it’s the city’s homeless population that is uniquely vulnerable. KNAU’s Ryan Heinsius reports, social service organizations are gearing up to help. 

Joyce Ruppert is currently experiencing homelessness in Sunnyside area. She says state forestry crews were helping her and others during fire with everything from trying to jump start cars to feeding them. Now Ruppert is worried about flooding.

"My concern is that if it floods what is going to happen to me and other homeless people … I think everybody’s praying that it’s not going to flood too bad and that all these sandbags are going to channel it," she says.

Credit Ryan Heinsius / KNAU
Arizona State Forestry vehicles parked in Sunnyside as crews help with flood mitigation.

Flagstaff Shelter Services has seen a 25% increase in the need for assistance since the Museum Fire started more than two weeks ago. About 30 people who’d been living in the woods initially went to the Sunnyside neighborhood where three church shelters are located. But the area is in the floodplain and a heavy rainstorm could cause water to rush through residential and business areas.

"Making sure that we can get people moved to a location that’s secure and not flooded will be our fire course of action … These are our neighbors. They’ve been living in Flagstaff probably as long as some of the people that you and I know that’ve been here all their lives," says Ross Altenbaugh, executive director of Shelter Services.

So far there hasn’t been any major flooding. Social service groups encourage anyone who’s unsheltered in the potential flood area to seek assistance.

Ryan Heinsius joined the KNAU newsroom as executive producer in 2013 and was named news director and managing editor in 2024. As a reporter, he has covered a broad range of stories from local, state and tribal politics to education, economy, energy and public lands issues, and frequently interviews internationally known and regional musicians. Ryan is an Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a Public Media Journalists Association Award winner, and a frequent contributor to NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered and national newscast.
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