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Fire in trash at Cinder Lakes Landfill in Flagstaff quickly contained

At 5 a.m. on Thursday morning, smoke was reported at the Cinder Lakes Landfill in Timberline. Summit Fire Department was on scene within 10 minutes and despite a red flag warning and high winds, the fire was contained to a 10th of an acre and quickly extinguished.

"Trash fires burn underground. The fire that you see on top is not the problem. The problem is the trash that is burning under that, which is hard to extinguish with water as you would a house fire or brush fire," said landfill manager Jeff Ely. "We have to use our dozer and equipment to dig out all of the burning trash and spread it out over a safe area and then smother it on the top. Typically what burns in a landfill fire is the last two feet of trash that we have laid down because we have not had the chance to compact it yet. Typically landfill fires don't burn past that because the deeper trash is so compacted.

"We will now monitor this all day today and tomorrow to make sure that the trash is fully out with no chance of relighting before we put it back into the landfill."

Jake Bacon, Arizona Daily Sun 

The Hazardous Products Center at Cinder Lakes is where unwanted batteries can be dropped off to be safely disposed of. Placing used batteries, especially lithium batteries or car batteries in the trash can lead to fires in the landfill when the batteries get wet and experience electrical short circuits.

Staff at the landfill train in responding to fires within the trash so that they can extinguish blazes before they get to the point of calling in the fire department.

"We train both in the classroom and out on the trash deck to develop plans to contain fires if and when we do have one," Ely said. "This time of year I would say it was a lithium ion battery or some type of automobile battery that somebody threw away in the trash that shouldn't have been there. If it was the fall or winter, then I would say the fire would have been caused by residential fireplace ashes put into the garbage, but at this time of year it's almost certainly a battery."

Ely said there is no charge for city or county residents who want to dispose of electronics, materials, liquids or batteries at the landfill's hazardous products facility, adding, "People can just drop it off rather than place it in the garbage cans."

"Probably the moisture that naturally occurs in the trash got to the battery. This happened after hours when we left and there are occasions when we catch it right now, and there are probably many occasions when it would get caught by my operators and put out without ever being reported," he said. "Our best guess is that this started around 4 a.m. this morning and smouldered until it finally caught."

Ely said they get between 350 and 380 tons of garbage per day coming into the landfill.

"Our volume is currently up because this is the Coconino County voucher week where county residents are given vouchers for free loads to the dump as part of their Fire Wise program to clean up their yards," he said.

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ADOT Route 66 bridge replacement comes with added benefits to Flagstaff

Thousands of commuters cross the Historic Route 66 Rio de Flag bridge everyday -- some without realizing it. But even lesser-known is that the bridge is nearly a century old and a vital component of the city’s flood control.

Over the next week, it will be replaced in favor of a new bridge that offers both an additional turn lane and is beneficial to the city’s long-term flood control efforts. 

As the old and dilapidated bridge, standing since 1934, says its final goodbye, travelers should expect increased traffic and detours in the downtown area. 

The Arizona Department of Transportation project began on Thursday evening the final phase of replacing the bridge, which officials said has exceeded its service life.

The project will close Historic Route 66 in front of Flagstaff City Hall (from Milton Road to Humphreys Street) for one week as crews work to install precast bridge girders and pour a new bridge deck.

ADOT resident engineer Nate Reisner said using those precast bridge components greatly reduces the time needed for closures.

“Basically with this project, we built a big Lego set,” Reisner said. “We're going to come in here and we're going to set those concrete blocks and make a new bridge.”

But this week’s closure follows more than a year of intermittent closures and visible construction along Route 66, leaving some to question why the project has taken so long. 

It turns out much of that time was spent on a long list of work needed to prepare the site for a new bridge. That includes relocating pre-existing utilities in the area such as sewage pipes and cable lines. 

“So that's what people have seen, the sideways drilling that looked like it was foundation work maybe for the bridge, but it wasn't. It was utility relocation that had nothing to do with it,” Reisner said.

Jake Bacon, Arizona Daily Sun 

Nate Reisner, Arizona Department of Transport resident engineer, stands in the Rio de Flag channel next to the Route 66 bridge in front of city hall Wednesday morning.

With the site ready for the precast pieces, ADOT crews can now install the new bridge and make improvements to both the roadway and the Rio de Flag flood control project in the process.

The City of Flagstaff is paying ADOT crews to over-excavate the wash beneath the bridge to make room for the city’s planned flood control infrastructure, including a box culvert the city hopes to install 17 feet underground, Reisner said.

Crews have also left room for the city to add a Flagstaff Urban Trail System passage under the bridge, he said.

For ADOT, the partnership is a win-win because it allows crews to protect the bridge from future projects while they excavate for the city.

“We're going to install some infrastructure to protect our bridge while we're hammering out the rock for the city's project and we'll fill back in again with loose dirt,” Reisner said.

That loose dirt will be a lot easier for the city to remove when it comes time for infrastructure to be installed as part of the Rio de Flag flood control project. That project encompasses a 20-year, $122 million effort between the City of Flagstaff and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to make the city safer from flooding.

ADOT hopes the project will enhance the use of Historic Route 66, accelerating long-term traffic plans in the process. The new bridge will be wide enough to implement another left-turn lane from eastbound Historic Route 66 to northbound Humphrey, Reisner said.

Traffic impacts

According to ADOT, Historic Route 66, also known as Business Loop 40, will be closed in both directions between US 180, known locally as Humphreys Street, and the Sitgreaves Street and Santa Fe Avenue intersection until 6 a.m. Friday, June 18. Detour signs will be in place to direct traffic around the closure.

Drivers heading north on Milton Avenue toward downtown Flagstaff will be detoured onto Butler Avenue to San Francisco Street. Local drivers, and those visiting the area from the Valley, are encouraged to use I-40 eastbound to Butler Avenue to bypass the traffic impacts due to construction.

Drivers heading south on US 180 are encouraged to use Switzer Canyon Drive to Historic Route 66 to bypass traffic impacts. Drivers who head south on US 180 in the downtown area, to get to points south and west of the project area, will turn left on Route 66 and use Beaver Street to head south to Butler Avenue and make a right to connect with Milton Road.

Drivers on Route 66 from east Flagstaff can use Switzer Canyon Drive to head north or use Ponderosa Parkway to head south and connect with Butler Avenue to get to points west and south of the project area.

After the weeklong bridge installment is completed, the crews will spend a few months finalizing the bridge while also improving the sidewalks and median along the street. Those efforts will likely result in additional lane impacts without any more complete east or westbound closures, Reisner said.

US consumer prices surge
  • Updated

WASHINGTON — American consumers absorbed another surge in prices in May — a 0.6% increase over April and 5% over the past year, the biggest 12-month inflation spike since 2008.

The May rise in consumer prices that the Labor Department reported Thursday reflected a range of goods and services now in growing demand as people increasingly shop, travel, dine out and attend entertainment events in a rapidly reopening economy.

The increased consumer appetite is bumping up against a shortage of components, from lumber and steel to chemicals and semiconductors, that supply such key products as autos and computer equipment, all of which has forced up prices. And as consumers increasingly venture away from home, demand has spread from manufactured goods to services — airline fares, for example, along with restaurant meals and hotel prices — raising inflation in those areas, too.

In its report Thursday, the government said that core inflation, which excludes volatile energy and food costs, rose 0.7% in May after an even bigger 0.9% increase in April, and has risen 3.8% over the past year. That is the sharpest 12-month jump in core inflation since 1992. And it is far above the Federal Reserve's 2% target for annual price increases.

Among specific items in May, prices for used vehicles, which had surged by a record 10% in April, shot up an additional 7.3% and accounted for one-third of May's overall price jump. The price of new cars, too, rose 1.6% — the largest one-month increase since 2009.

The jump in new and used vehicle prices reflects supply chain problems that have caused a shortage of semiconductors. The lack of computer chips has limited production of new cars, which, in turn, has reduced the supply of used cars. As demand for vehicles has risen, prices have followed.

But higher prices were evident in a wide variety of categories in May, including household furnishings, which rose 0.9%, driven by a record jump in the price of floor coverings. Airline fares rose 7% after having increased 10.2% in April. Food prices rose 0.4%, with beef prices jumping 2.3%. Energy costs, though unchanged in May, are still up 56.2% in the past year.

Meanwhile, the number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits fell for the sixth straight week as the U.S. economy, held back for months by the coronavirus pandemic, reopens rapidly.

Jobless claims fell by 9,000 to 376,000 from 385,000 the week before, the Labor Department reported Thursday. The number of people signing up for benefits exceeded 900,000 in early January and has fallen more or less steadily ever since. Still, claims are high by historic standards. Before the pandemic brought economic activity to a near-standstill in March 2020, weekly applications were regularly coming in below 220,000.

Nearly 3.5 million people were receiving traditional state unemployment benefits the week of May 29, down by 258,000 from 3.8 million the week before.

From the cereal maker General Mills to Chipotle Mexican Grill to the paint maker Sherwin-Williams, a range of companies have been raising prices or plan to do so, in some cases to make up for higher wages they're now paying to keep or attract workers. This week, for example, Chipotle Mexican Grill announced it was boosting menu prices by roughly 4% to cover the cost of raising its workers' wages. In May, Chipotle had said that it would raise wages for its restaurant workers to reach an average of $15 an hour by the end of June.

Andrew Hunter, a senior U.S. economist at Capital Economics, noted that the price category that covers restaurant meals jumped 0.6% last month. He took that as evidence that labor shortages at restaurants, hotels and other service sector companies are beginning to fuel wage and price increases.

The inflation pressures are not only squeezing consumers but also posing a risk to the economy's recovery from the pandemic recession. One risk is that the Fed will eventually respond to intensifying inflation by raising interest rates too aggressively and derail the economic recovery.

The central bank, led by Chair Jerome Powell, has repeatedly expressed its belief that inflation will prove temporary as supply bottlenecks are unclogged and parts and goods flow normally again. But some economists have expressed concern that as the economic recovery accelerates, fueled by rising demand from consumers spending freely again, so will inflation.

The question is, for how long?

"The price spikes could be bigger and more prolonged because the pandemic has been so disruptive to supply chains," said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics. But "by the fall or end of the year," Zandi suggested, "prices will be coming back to earth."

So far, Fed officials haven't deviated from their view that higher inflation is a temporary consequence of the economy's rapid reopening, with its accelerating consumer demand, and the lack of enough supplies and workers to keep pace with it. Eventually, they say, supply will rise to match demand.

Officials also note that year-over-year gauges of inflation now look especially large because they are being measured against the early months of the pandemic, when inflation tumbled as the economy all but shut down. In coming months, the year-over-year inflation figures will likely look smaller.

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High winds late in the week push Slate Fire to estimated 5,000 acres
  • Updated

Firefighters may have hoped to keep the Slate Fire north of Flagstaff contained to just 3,000 acres, but high winds Wednesday afternoon had different plans.

Coconino National Forest spokesperson Randi Shaffer told the Arizona Daily Sun that by Wednesday evening, a flyover of the fire revealed the blaze had grown to an estimated 5,000 acres.

Just like in previous days, that growth comes in part as many acres of prescribed burns around the fire designed to consume fuels and limit its movement joined with the main body of the fire, enlarging its total footprint.

But Shaffer said higher winds also continued to push the fire, which is still at 0% containment, north and northeast.

Those higher winds, which are expected to continue through Thursday, could also make monitoring the fire’s growth somewhat more difficult, Shaffer said. The winds may hinder or event prevent aircraft from being able to conduct flyovers of the blaze -- which is generally the best way to measure the size of a fire.

“We did have that perimeter marked to 3,000 acres and our goal was to keep it contained. But you know, it's dry, it’s windy, we're in a drought, and fire is fire. Things don't always go according to plan. But luckily, we have backup plans and contingency plans. So we are still working to contain the fire. There's not really a cause for concern yet,” Shaffer said.

Highway 180 remains closed with no estimated time for reopening. The highway has been closed since Monday afternoon when the Coconino National Forest began prescribed burns along the road to counter the fire.

Shaffer said the road will remain closed in part because firefighters are still burning areas near the road. But she said the larger factor might be visibility and the number of emergency vehicles and personnel on the road.

“There's heavy smoke impacts in the area, so reduced visibility. And also we do have a lot of crews and equipment using that road,” Shaffer said.

The road from mileposts 235 to 248 will remain closed for the foreseeable future.

At the moment, there is not a new acreage perimeter that forest managers are hoping to keep the fire within. But Shaffer said throughout Thursday, fire managers planned to continue to conduct burnout operations west of the highway in order to secure the northwestern flank of the blaze.

East of the highway, hand crews and dozers continue direct attack work, hoping to direct the fire northeast and away from Cedar Ranch.

This should help herd the fire toward fuels and terrain that will be more effective in containing that section of the fire, rather than allowing the fire to move south toward the Kachina Peaks Wilderness.

Shaffer said it helps that the winds are naturally pushing the fire in the direction they want.

It appears that Cedar Ranch, which firefighters had been working hard to protect, has found itself under relative safety after prescribed burns set Wednesday blocked the fire’s approach to the ranch.

According to social media posts, the efforts saved a historic barn and several other structures in the area.

Firefighters are now using the ranch as a safety area for fire crews and engines operating east of the highway.

Shaffer said one of the four hotshot crews that had been working the fire timed out and was pulled off the line leaving about 130 personnel still working the blaze. Shaffer said forest managers are working to bring in another crew in to replace the crew that was pulled.

The National Weather Service in Bellemont is calling for a slight break in the wind heading into the weekend, though gusts could still exceed 20 mph each day.

High temperatures will increase to the upper 80s over the weekend and are forecast to be 92 degrees Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Three times in the 2010s, Flagstaff never recorded a high in the 90s; the all-time high is 97 degrees, set in 1973.

The forecast has a 20 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms slated for Wednesday.