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Inside the Museum Fire

Charred logs sit in a landscape of ash and burned soil beside Mount Elden Lookout road last week inside the Museum Fire.

The Museum Fire and post-fire flood mitigation is currently estimated at more than $12 million in combined costs, based on available data from multiple different agency sources.

The U.S. Forest Service, Coconino County and City of Flagstaff are still making expenditures or having expenditures processed. The current data reflects information available to officials as of Wednesday afternoon. The Museum Fire was sparked on July 21, and was declared 100% contained on Aug. 15. Fire has continued to burn behind the containment line and caused occasional smoke clouds above Flagstaff since the containment was declared.

No cause has been determined for what sparked the Museum Fire, although a report is expected soon.

The Forest Service has likely spent at least $9 million for the firefighting response; Coconino County is estimating $1.45 million for flood mitigation preparations beneath the Spruce Avenue Watershed; and the Burn Area Emergency Response team is currently calculating a $2 million receipt.

Lucinda Andreani, director of Coconino County Public Works, said the $1.45 million number is close to the actual amount spent at this point. The money was spent on obtaining sandbag materials and Jersey barriers and installing the barriers across the regions that were expected to be impacted. Those regions include Elden Estates, Linda Vista, Paradise Road, Grandview and Sunnyside.

The amount and placement of the bags were based on a combination of burn data, watershed topography and water estimates based upon the best available data.

“It wasn’t a 'just throw a bunch of bags out here and hope for the best' approach,” Andreani said. “It was very targeted based on depth of the water.”

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Andreani added that the properties in the flood area are valued at a combined $303 million.

Paul Summerfelt, a Flagstaff Fire and Flagstaff Watershed Protection Project (FWPP) official, offered the early estimate from Forest Service data. The cost covers the 700 personnel, all the aircraft, and gas for the many vehicles involved in fighting the fire.

The information was included in a FWPP update concerning many different aspects of the Museum Fire’s impacts on the project. Summerfelt said the Flagstaff Watershed Protection Project team was going to need some time to figure out how the uncompleted treatments impacted the fire scar.

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The fire burned through the endangered Mexican spotted owl habitat. Both young owls, which were unable to fly, and adults, which were able to move on their own, were spotted in the weeks before the fire. However, many of nests in the area were burned, making impacts to the populations hard to measure.

“It will be spring before the birds nest again, can be located, and population impacts known,” Summerfelt said.

Summerfelt said they expect the report listing the cause of the Museum Fire to be released sometime soon. In the meantime, they have heard theories from citizens around the city about the cause: illegal campfires, contractor machinery and even "a UFO landing," according to the update.

"We’re just gonna wait and see what the investigation report says," Summerfelt said. "Some people are likely to be disappointed and some vindicated."

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Scott Buffon can be reached at sbuffon@azdailysun.com, on Twitter @scottbuffon or by phone at (928) 556-2250.

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