The Museum Fire has seemingly grown and shrunk multiple times since it first started burning close to Flagstaff on Sunday. 

The changing numbers have created confusion.

However, fire officials say the size of the fire isn’t actually dramatically changing like the jumps in acreage estimates might suggest.

It’s actually just one of the many challenges of an active fire, according to Joel Barnett, spokesman for the Southwest Area Incident Management Team, which is in charge of operations.

“The accuracy isn’t perfect,” Barnett said. 

Typically, an airplane will fly over the wildfire and create an infrared map that provides a relatively accurate estimate of the total acreage. Barnett says this wasn’t done Monday night because there was significant cloud cover.

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Earlier estimates were based off GPS mapping conducted by fire crews on the ground and in the air. Barnett described these estimating methods as “semi-accurate.”

A typo is also to blame for some of the confusion. Officials initially said the acreage was approximately 800 acres Monday evening. They later said that was a typo and the actual size was closer to 1,800 acres.

Barnett said the Type-1 Incident Management Team that took over operations Monday couldn’t verify the larger number. They opted to change the estimated acreage to “more than 1,000 acres” just to be safe. 

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“It’s still early in the stages of the fire, so everything is kind of fluid,” Barnett said. “We try not to release anything until we’re confident it’s the right information.”

Gov. Doug Ducey declared a state of emergency Tuesday, which will provide additional state funding for suppression efforts.

Officials provided another estimate Tuesday afternoon that placed the fire at approximately 1,400 acres. Crews will attempt to map the fire Tuesday night if the skies are clear enough.

The fire is now 10% contained, and multiple neighborhoods in northeast Flagstaff remain under evacuation or in pre-evacuation stages.

Reach public safety reporter Bree Burkitt at [email protected] or at 602-444-8515. Follow her on Twitter at @breeburkitt.

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