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Sunset Crater visitor center 'miraculously' survived Tunnel Fire

Two firefighters walk through a charred landscape with some standing pine trees
Tom Story
Coconino National Forest
Burned land in the wake of the Tunnel Fire

The Tunnel Fire burned through the entirety of Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument east of Flagstaff, but staff say patchworks of vegetation—and the Visitor Center—survived the flames. KNAU’s Melissa Sevigny reports.

The fire burned quickly through the 3,000-acre monument and left behind a mosaic of burned and unburned grasses and blackened trees.

Richard Ullmann, spokesperson for the Flagstaff Area National Monuments, says, "Miraculously the Visitor Center, and the small housing area behind it, is entirely intact, and nobody quite knows what that worked out, because, given the intensity and the magnitude of the fire it was generally understood that that wouldn’t happen, but it did."

Ullmann adds a few outbuildings and vehicles were destroyed. He says the fire was hot enough around the popular Lava Flow Trail to melt guardrails and interpretive signs. "There’s going to be quite a bit of risk mitigation that needs to happen," he says. "The park will be closed indefinitely, I can’t forecast when it would reopen."

The nearby Wupatki National Monument is also evacuated and closed to the public, but hasn’t yet been touched by the Tunnel Fire. The region has experienced severe drought and a widespread die-off of juniper trees in recent years, which left dead, standing timber to fuel the fire.

Melissa joined KNAU's team in 2015 to report on science, health, and the environment. Her work has appeared nationally on NPR and been featured on Science Friday. She grew up in Tucson, Arizona, where she fell in love with the ecology and geology of the Sonoran desert.