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Tunnel Fire burns at least two dozen homes, forces 2,000 evacuations northeast of Flagstaff

Tunnel Fire 4-19-22
Ryan Heinsius/KNAU
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The Tunnel Fire exploded in growth on Tue, April 19, 2022 as heavy winds funneled it to the northeast. It's burned at least two dozen homes and forced the evacuation of more than 2,000 people.

The Tunnel Fire northeast of Flagstaff has burned at least two dozen homes as thousands of people have been ordered to evacuate. Heavy winds on Tuesday caused the wildfire to quickly grow to 6,000 acres.

Coconino County Sheriff Jim Driscoll says it’s still too dangerous to send in personnel to confirm exactly how many homes have burned. And he also says it’s unclear at this point whether all of the area’s residents made it out after being ordered to leave.

In all, more than 2,000 people were evacuated along with about 1,000 animals.

"The rapid movement and progression of this fire made the evacuation much more difficult and complicated than we’ve had in the past. We had deputies and other law enforcement agencies right next to the fire evacuating homes," said Driscoll at a briefing Tuesday evening.

Officials say about 250 structures are still threatened. According to forest managers, the fire’s explosive growth was driven by extreme winds, and that crews have seen flame lengths of more than a hundred feet.

The Coconino County Board of Supervisors, meanwhile, has declared a state of emergency, which could open up additional resources from the state.

True Brown
Ryan Heinsius/KNAU
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Flagstaff Ranger District Fire Management Officer True Brown speaks at a Tunnel Fire briefing on Tue, April 19, 2022.

A type 3 incident management team is expected to arrive, and a type 1 team has been requested from the federal government. Meteorologists expect the winds to decrease Wednesday.

Evacuation orders have been given for all areas north of Campbell Avenue to Sunset Crater on both the west and east sides of Highway 89 including homes surrounding Moon Crater. Some homes south of Campbell Avenue are in Set status along with the Antelope Hills area.

A shelter has been set up at Sinagua Middle School in Flagstaff and the Coconino Humane Society is available for evacuated large and small breed animals.

The Tunnel Fire call center can be reached at (928) 679-8525. For ongoing updates, see coconino.az.gov/tunnelfire.

Ryan joined KNAU's newsroom in 2013. He covers 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 frequent contributor to NPR.