From a small flicker up to a 1,800 acre blaze, the Museum Fire continues to rage.
The fire looms among the San Francisco Peaks suspended in perfect view from Milton Road and was initially reported by numerous members of the public and fire lookouts around 11 a.m. Sunday, July 21. The fire grew exponentially n size within 24 hours of its germination and remains at zero percent containment as of Monday, July 22. As evacuation areas grow in tandem with the fire, Flagstaff citizens are uneasy.
Coconino’s last fire occurred in 2010 and affected nearly 15,000 acres, costing the county $147 million, according to AZCentral — the Museum Fire looks to be following in its footsteps.
Monday morning, July 22, firefighters continued the aerial assault which began Sunday. The Coconino National Forest reported that more than a dozen aircrafts attempted to flank the fire with retardant and water in the Schultz Pass area to limit spreading north and south. Crews spotted a large presence of spotting to the east and will work on creating a fire line.
An evacuation alert was released around 3 p.m. Monday notifying all Flagstaff residents living or working along Mount Elden Lookout Road to vacate by 6 p.m. This followed a declaration of State of Emergency placed at 2 p.m. from Mayor Coral Evans and Coconino County Board of Supervisor Chair Lena Fowler, urging Governor Doug Ducey to allocate appropriate emergency funding to the county.
In a Facebook post, Evans wrote, “It is important that everyone knows that the city is working in close collaboration with the county and Coconino National Forest and our community partners to manage the effects of this fire. I want to continue to encourage all residents to ensure they are ready in the event their neighborhood is moved to set or go!”
Beyond evacuations, firefighters and the county have asked citizens to refrain from flying drones in the airspace. Unidentified manned and unmanned aircraft in the area will result in efforts being shut down immediately. The public has also been warned to stay away from the fire. Throughout the daytime hours citizens who can see the flames are too close, according to the Coconino National Forest. Commuters have been warned to use extreme caution when travelling on the U.S. highways 180 and 89 north of Flagstaff and asked to avoid the area entirely if possible.
Just outside of Flagstaff, flash flood warnings accompanied 45 to 50 MPH winds throughout the Sedona, Munds Park and Payson areas. While thunderstorms persisted throughout the city, the rain has yet to reach the areas affected by the Museum Fire.
Rainy forecasts for this week may seem promising, but they pose another issue. After 2010’s Schultz Fire, the burn scar left by the blaze brought on tremendous flooding. The Museum Fire poses the same issue, but nothing will be determined until the fire is extinguished.
Following the Schultz Fire, Flagstaff voters approved a $10 million dollar bond to support the Flagstaff Watershed Protection Project. The project was a partnership between the state, city and Coconino National Forest and aimed to reduce the risk of wildfire and post-wildfire flooding. A map of the general location of treatment areas can be found on the Flagstaff Watershed Protection Project website. Among the treatment areas is the Dry Lake Hills Project which notably includes the area in which the Museum Fire occurred.
George Jozens, a Coconino National Forest spokesman, said the affected area was being thinned to prevent fires, according to AZCentral. The area is in desperate need of treatment and poses great threat, made clear by the Museum Fire.
Had the fire not erupted in the middle of the job, it would likely have less ease spreading. As reported by AZCentral, debris and tree trimmings had not been cleared from the area, possibly fueling the fire further.
Within hours of initial reports wild-land firefighters responded with ground crews, engines, helicopters, fixed wing and attack aircraft in the Dry Lake Hills area northwest of Mount Elden. Since then, efforts have tripled from 200 to 600 personnel. As of Monday evening at 6 p.m. the Type 1 Southwest Area Incident Management Team 2 has assumed command of operations related to the Museum Fire, according to the official incident report. The Incident Command Post is located at Ft. Tuthill, just south of Flagstaff.
The Type 1 Southwest Area Incident Management Team 2 is one of 16 type one teams in the country. Of the five types of incident management teams, type one teams are the most extensively trained and generally respond to larger-level incidents and natural disasters.
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