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At least 41 homes and structures have been severely damaged or destroyed by the Tinder Fire that continues to burn in the Blue Ridge area, about 50 miles southeast of Flagstaff, according to the latest surveys by Coconino County.

“In the last 20 years this is the most catastrophic event the county has seen as far as home loss or damage to property,” county spokesman Matt Rudig said, adding that his statement is based on the information the county has right now.

Of the homes that were affected, most were second homes, Rudig said.

The county is planning a staged reentry for the hundreds of residents evacuated due to the fire, starting with residents whose homes were lost or heavily damaged.

When the county does lift the evacuation order, only owners, with valid proper identification, will be allowed to return to the area at first.

The county has not released a timeline for beginning the reentry process, but Brian Scott, information officer with the Tinder Fire incident management team, said fire managers would likely make a decision about when citizens could reenter within the next few days.

By Wednesday evening, the fire had charred more than 12,286 acres and was 12 percent contained.

Snow and rain that fell on the burn area Tuesday and Wednesday wetted down smaller fuels like grasses and twigs and gave a temporary boost to firefighting efforts, Scott said.

The weather and shift in wind direction allowed crews to do extensive backburning to reduce burnable fuels along the edge of the fire, Scott said.

The precipitation wasn’t enough to affect the moisture levels in bigger trees however. Those are still extremely dry, Scott said.

“Frankly, this moisture will last and do well for the next day or two, but if on Friday we get sunny skies, wind and warmer temperatures that would probably dry grasses and twigs right back out to where they were last Sunday and any sparks could start another fire,” he said.

Scott explained that the fire continues to have a low containment number because firefighters that created initial fire lines didn’t have time to make them sufficiently wide before they had to move on to other more pressing duties such as defending homes. Now, they are going back to ensure those lines are completely cleared of heat sources or burnable material so that fire managers are totally confident the fire will not cross them, Scott said.

On Tuesday, APS and other utility contractors went back into neighborhoods in the evacuated area to test propane systems, remove damaged propane tanks, repair damaged power poles and restore damaged electrical lines.

Officials have determined the cause of the Tinder Fire, which started Friday, was an abandoned campfire that the Forest Service determined was illegal, but investigators have not found the person responsible.

The Forest Service put out a call for information from anyone who was in the area of Forest Road 95 near the origin of the Tinder Fire on April 27 and may have information that could help the investigation. People should call Forest Service Law Enforcement at (928) 527-3511.

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Emery Cowan can be reached at (928) 556-2250 or ecowan@azdailysun.com

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Environment, Health and Science Reporter

Emery Cowan writes about science, health and the environment for the Arizona Daily Sun, covering everything from forest restoration to endangered species recovery efforts.

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