The Tunnel Fire burning 14 miles northeast of Flagstaff, Ariz., forced people from their homes Tuesday night and grew to more than 9 square miles with 0% containment, forestry officials said.
The fire broke out shortly before 4:30 p.m. Sunday. The cause is still under investigation.
“I can’t stress enough how quickly this fire is moving northeast,” Fire Management Officer True Brown said Tuesday evening. He urged people to leave the area.
Aviation assets were ordered and on site earlier in the day but had to remain grounded due to “unprecedented winds” in the area, Brown said.
The length of the flames reached up to 100 feet high and the wind gusts reached 50 mph, officials said.
As of Tuesday evening, 766 households had been evacuated in Coconino County, County Supervisor Patrice Horstman said. More than 2,000 people live in the affected area.
About 250 structures remained at risk in the area popular with hikers and all-terrain vehicle users and where astronauts trained amid volcanic ash pits.
“The rapid movement of the progress of this fire has made evacuation much more difficult and complicated than in the past,” Coconino Sheriff Jim Driscoll said Tuesday evening. “We’ve had some difficulty getting some people out and we’re still trying to confirm those who may have chosen to stay in their neighborhoods and not honor the mandatory evacuation.”
Driscoll said the sheriff’s office received a call saying a man was trapped in his home, but firefighters couldn’t reach him. They don’t know if he survived.
Forecast for the tunnel fire
The fire grew significantly due to high winds and spread northeast at a high rate, according to a statement from the Coconino National Forest.
Officials expect the rest of the week to be difficult.
“I don’t see a significant decrease in wind, I don’t see any big increases in humidity, and at this point we’re not really expecting any precipitation either,” said meteorologist Robert Rickey.
Coconino National Forest district ranger Matt McGrath said a fire investigation team has been ordered and will be on the scene by Wednesday to identify the cause of the blaze.
The National Interagency Fire Center reported Tuesday that nearly 2,000 wildland firefighters and support personnel have been assigned to more than a dozen large wildfires in the Southwest, South and Rocky Mountain regions. Scientists say climate change has made the American West much hotter and drier over the past 30 years and will continue to make weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive.
Contributor: The Associated Press