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KNAU and Arizona News

Tunnel Fire evacuees return home, demand to know why fire was "contained" and not fully suppressed when first reported

File image: Tunnel Fire, Flagstaff, AZ
Smith, Brady -FS
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Residents within the Tunnel Fire evacuation and burn area want answers as to how a small fire reported on Easter Sunday turned into a catastrophic wildfire by Tuesday.

At a community meeting Saturday in Flagstaff, residents asked why the fire wasn’t fully suppressed the day it was reported. They wanted to know why an engine hadn’t been stationed overnight in the area considering the fire’s proximity to homes and the National Weather Service’s forecast for high winds. They asked for phone records to determine how many people reported the fire between Sunday and Tuesday.

Forest officials said they were working on answers to those questions and that the findings would be shared with the public as the Tunnel Fire investigation evolves.

Evacuees of the more than 21,000-acre Tunnel Fire burning northeast of Flagstaff were allowed back to their properties Sunday after the Coconino County Sheriff lifted a mandatory evacuation order.

More than 100 homes were impacted by the fire, at least 24 were destroyed.

At Saturday's community meeting, officials with local agencies went over the guidelines for returning to the evacuation area safely.

Residents were encouraged to use caution and be aware of utility crews and animals moving through the area. On Monday April 25, 2022, the State Department of Emergency Management and Community Development will assess property damage in the fire zone. County officials say it’s an important process that is necessary for recovery services and emergency declaration documentation purposes.

US 89 has reopened north of Flagstaff. The highway was closed between milepost 425 and milepost 445 at Wupatki National Monument due to the Tunnel Fire.

Coconino County has set up Tunnel Fire Call Center for those impacted by the fire, 928-679-8525. Additional information and resources are available at https://www.coconino.az.gov/