FLAGSTAFF — 600 firefighters are on the ground and in the air hoping to get a handle on the ever-growing Museum Fire, which is raging a mile north of Flagstaff’s city limits.
In a briefing Tuesday morning, fire officials said the Museum Fire remained somewhat stagnant but has continued to burn, putting thousands of homes at risk of fire and floods.
According to Coconino National Forest officials, the fire has charred 1,800 acres, is moving quickly in all directions and is zero percent contained.
Crews plan on focusing to establish a perimeter using nearby roads and trail systems, tighten that perimeter and evacuate people if needed.
About 5,000 homes, mostly in the northeastern part of town, remain at risk.
Fire officials will provide an update on the fire’s acreage and areas of concern during a public meeting at 6 p.m. at Flagstaff High School.
Fire crews will spend most of the day scouting and securing that perimeter to better protect people, their homes, power and water lines and the watershed, said Todd Abel, operations chief with the Central Arizona Fire and Medical Authority.
At-risk residents should have confidence in the crews, listen to the alerts they receive and be ready to evacuate if needed, he added.
“The inter-agency cooperation up in this area is outstanding,” Abel said during the press briefing. There have been no changes to pre-evacuation orders yet.
“The folks that they have, including their local fire departments, county governments and the U.S. Forest Service are very good at what they do,” Abel added. “They have some of the best in place right now and have the best options right now.”
Top-tier team fighting the blaze
The fire is being handled by a Type-1 Incident Management Team, which could be the best crew type the city can ask for.
Type-1 Incident Management Teams are generally made up of the most experienced people and can better handle and adjust complex and unpredictable fires.
Incident Cmdr. Rich Nieto and his crew were handed command of the fire late Monday and are working through a delegation of the state and the U.S. Forest Service.
FOR SUBSCRIBERS: Museum Fire near Flagstaff is ‘fire that we have feared’
Many on team are from the area, Nieto said, and will capitalize on their knowledge of the terrain.
“One reason that we took the fire over so quickly was … our high level of awareness, but also because we have a lot of local assets on our team that have transitioned over from our Type-3 team to our Incident Management Team,” Nieto said.
This fire is the highest priority fire in the region, he added.
Crews could get some help from the rain, which will be a break from the warm and dry weather the region has seen over weeks.
It is expected to be an “active day” of storms in the Flagstaff area, according to the National Weather Service. Storms will start to roll through the region around 12 p.m. Tuesday. Hail, gusty winds, heavy rain and flooding are all possible.
The Museum Fire burns north of Flagstaff on July 21, 2019. The fire, was reported around 11 a.m. Sunday by fire lookouts and calls from the public.
Tom Tingle, The Republic | azcentral.com
State to get federal funds to fight fire
The Federal Emergency Management Agency announced on Tuesday federal funds will be used to assist the state to combat the Museum Fire, according to the FEMA website.
Arizona submitted a request on Monday for a Fire Management Assistance Declaration. At the time of the request, the fire was threatening 3,600 homes and 180 businesses in the Flagstaff area, FEMA reported.
FEMA also said the fire was endangering the Flagstaff water plant, multiple fire stations and municipal buildings.
“The FEMA Region IX regional administrator has determined that the Museum Fire threatened such destruction as would constitute a major disaster,” FEMA said in a news release.
The Fire Management Assistance Grant provides federal funding for up to 75% of eligible firefighting costs including expenses for field camps, equipment use, materials, supplies and mobilization, and demobilization activities attributed to fighting the fire.
Members of the Flagstaff PD go door-to-door in Valley Crest Estates to alert residents of a pre-evacuation notice due to the Museum Fire.
Tom Tingle, The Republic | azcentral.com
Residents brace for evacuations
A fire lookout spotted the fire on Sunday morning and despite the rapid response by fire crews, it quickly sprawled to 1,000 acres and put some people living nearby the Dry Lake Hills recreation area at risk.
Nobody knows what started the fire, although some neighbors waiting for evacuation orders speculated it was human-caused.
The fire is spreading so quickly because ponderosa pines can burn easily and help scatter the fire on windy days, Abel said. With heavy wind expected most of Tuesday, that will complicate containment efforts.
Fire crews hope to keep the fire from spreading any further, especially eastward, toward the neighborhoods that saw the worst of the Schultz Fire.
People living there and in nearly a dozen neighborhoods northeast of the city are expected to be ready to evacuate if an order is given.
Because of the similar path of the fire, crews fear the effects could bring floods. Crews aren’t sure how severe they could be, but they say they are “highly aware” of the risk it poses and will notify people when needed.
If that does happen, most of the damage would happen below the burn scars of previous fires, including the 2010 Schultz Fire.
Tuesday’s goal, Abel said, remains much the same: keeping the fire in check, establish a perimeter and keep the fire where they want it.
“As of this morning, we have air tankers and helicopters to help keep this in check until we get all of these pieces in place,” he added.
Breaking news intern Aubrey Carpenter contributed to this report.
Support local journalism. Subscribe to azcentral.com today.
Read or Share this story: https://www.azcentral.com/story/news/local/arizona-wildfires/2019/07/23/museum-fire-near-flagstaff-remains-1-800-acres-no-containment/1802115001/