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Tunnel Fire surges to nearly 20,000 acres, threatens hundreds of homes

Tunnel Fire 4-19-22
Isaac Neff
The smoke plume of the Tunnel Fire as seen from the Timberline community on Tue, April 19, 2022. Heavy winds rapidly spread the fire through neighborhoods northeast of Flagstaff.

The Tunnel Fire burning northeast of Flagstaff has grown to nearly 20,000 acres with no containment yet reported. Strong winds overnight Tuesday fueled explosive growth of the wildfire.

Coconino County Sheriff’s officials say at least two dozen homes have burned in the Timberline community and elsewhere, but that it’s still too dangerous to send in personnel to determine the exact number. They also say it’s unclear whether all of the area’s residents made it out after being ordered to leave. More than 2,000 people have been evacuated and hundreds of homes remain threatened.

Forest managers say the fire’s massive surge was driven by extreme winds. True Brown is the fire management officer on the Flagstaff Ranger District and spoke at a briefing Tuesday night.

"I cannot stress enough how rapidly this fire is moving in a northeasterly direction. And folks, if they are under an evacuation order, I cannot stress how important it is to leave the fire area," said Brown.

Brown says fire crews on Tuesday saw flame lengths of more than a hundred feet. Firefighters are focusing on protecting homes in the area as well as trying to keep the wildfire from spreading up the steep slopes of O’Leary Peak.

A type 1 federal incident management team is expected to arrive Thursday as heavy winds are forecast to return, and a fire weather watch goes into effect for much of the region.

A community meeting will be held at Sinagua Middle School in Flagstaff Wednesday evening at 5:30 p.m. For the most up-to-date information, follow Coconino County on Facebook and Twitter or see the county’s website.

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.