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Tunnel Fire update Saturday, April 24, 2022: crews make progress, possible return home Sunday for evacuees, residents demand answers, want fire department call registry

tunnel fire
Coconino National Forest/Eric True
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RESIDENTS WANT ANSWERS

At a community meeting Saturday afternoon in Flagstaff, residents demanded answers from forest managers about why the Tunnel Fire wasn’t suppressed completely on Sunday when it was first called in and why the fire wasn’t monitored overnight, especially with strong winds in the forecast.

One resident asked the Forest Service for a call registry from Sunday to Tuesday to see how many calls came into the responding fire department and the Forest Service. Forest Service officials said the data would be compiled and released by the investigative team working on the Tunnel Fire.

SHERIFF HOPEFUL EVACUEES CAN RETURN HOME SUNDAY

Coconino County Sheriff Jim Driscoll told a room full of fire evacuees that he hoped they could return to their homes Sunday morning. He said he would meet Saturday night with the Type I Incident Management Commander who will make recommendations about when residents may be allowed to return home safely. Driscoll said to watch county social media platforms for any announcements.

Kim Musselman with Coconino County Health and Human Services advised residents to immediately discard the contents of their refrigerators when they return home as they are contaminated and a health hazard. County officials said large food waste bins have already been mobilized into affected neighborhoods for the discarding process.

Residents were also advised to take hazardous materials, including oil, paint, electronics, and other items to the Cinder Lake Landfill for disposal. All costs will be taken care of by Coconino County, an official said.

THE RE-ENTRY PROCESS WILL TAKE TIME

Meeting attendees were given re-entry packets with information on how their return home will work. A staging area will be at Silver Saddle Trading Post on U.S. Hwy 89. Residents will have to show ID to check in.

Sheriff Jim Driscoll advised residents not to bring livestock back immediately in order to avoid trailer traffic all at once. U.S. Hwy 89 will remain closed to all other traffic when residents are allowed to return home so they can do so as safely as possible.

Once home, residents will remain on SET or pre-evacuation status. They should be ready to evacuate again if necessary, according to Driscoll.

Information on returning to the evacuated area is at www.coconino.az.gov. Online packets outline the process, as well as offer information on how to contact insurance companies, dispose of items and restore property and defensible space.

FIRE OPERATIONS UPDATE

Fire managers with the Type 1 Incident Team say crews worked directly in the Schultz Fire scar Friday night and early Saturday morning on a 500-acre spot fire on Schultz Pass Road (Forest Service Road 420).

Bulldozers build additional line and ground crews mopped up, extinguished flames and pulled burned logs into the containment area. Managers talked about control features in the burn areas to help firefighting efforts, including existing roads, lava flows and bulldozer lines.

Flagstaff Hotshots felt along the fire’s edge with their hands to make sure the ground is cool. Helicopters were able to make numerous drops on the Tunnel Fire Friday and Saturday after high winds kept them grounded earlier.

Officials say a structure protection group is moving through the fire and evacuation zone looking at all structures affected and coming up with a worst case scenario plan for properties on edge of fire. They want to secure public safety before allowing evacuees to return home.

The power utility has secured and energized powerlines and service panels so the evacuation area has been reenergized in terms of power supply.

WEATHER FORECAST, SMOKE OUTLOOK

The National Weather Service says much lighter winds and cooler temps are in the forecast through Monday which will likely help firefighting efforts. Winds only reaching 10-15 mph Saturday and Sunday, with gusts around 20 mph at times.

Northerly winds and the fire burning to the north will bring smoke into the Doney Park area Saturday night and in coming days. Smoke will intensive as temperatures drop overnight.

High winds are expected to return to the region Tuesday through Thursday next week with gusts up to 35 mph at times from the south. That could create down sloping winds on the Tunnel Fire, according to weather experts.

EVACUEE INFORMATION AND ROAD CLOSURES

Current evacuations remain in place as does a local State of Emergency.

An evacuee shelter is operating at Sinagua Middle School, 3850 E. Butler Ave. in Flagstaff.

Information about evacuations, structures that have been burned, and when people might be able to return is handled by Coconino County, which is posting updates online via their Coconino County Tunnel Fire page. The County has also established a Coconino County Tunnel Fire Call Center at 928-679-8525 for information and questions.

Tunnel Fire evacuees can take their pets to Coconino Humane Association: 3501 E Butler Ave, Flagstaff, AZ 86004, and large animals to the Fort Tuthill County Stables. Historic Hitchin' Post Stables, 4848 Lake Mary Rd, Flagstaff, and Beth's Burro Barn are also accepting equines and farm animals. http://BethsBurroBarn.com.

Highway 89 remains closed from milepost 425 to 435.

A Forest Closure Order remains in effect for the Tunnel Fire area, implemented by the Coconino National Forest.

An interactive map and other fire and evacuation information can be found at: www.coconino.az.gov/2894/Tunnel-Fire.

Information regarding current firefighting efforts and the direction and activity of the fire is regularly updated on the Tunnel Fire Inciweb page at https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/8068/.