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Original article posted at 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday, July 23:
The Museum Fire burning in the Dry Lake Hills area above the city of Flagstaff is now the top priority fire in the country due to how close the blaze is to the city's homes and structures on Tuesday, July 23.
As of 7 a.m., the fire is 0% contained, has burned 1,800 acres and now has 600 personnel working on the blaze. Fire officials also expect continued support from planes and helicopters dropping water and retardant on the fire.
Rich Nieto, the commander for the Type 1 Southwest Area Incident Management Team Two, explained the status of the fire and their plan for managing it during Tuesday morning's 7 a.m. meeting at Fort Tuthill, where they are currently staging the fire operation center.
While forecasts expect thunderstorms to bring wind, rain and hail to the region Tuesday afternoon, fire personnel plans to scout the area surrounding the fire today and have containment lines set up around the fire by Wednesday.
Nieto explained that weather last night prohibited any planes from gathering infrared data on the Museum Fire, and therefore they do not have an acreage update. The next acreage update will come during a 6 p.m. community meeting at Flagstaff High School Tuesday night.
Coconino County issued an evacuation notice for communities along Schultz Pass and Elden Lookout Road yesterday, placing these neighborhoods in the “Go” stage. The evacuation notices are still in effect as of 7 a.m.
The evacuation was ordered to clear the area for potential fuel burning operations ahead of the Museum Fire, which according to fire officials appeared to be successful.
Areas in the “Set” or pre-evacuation stage are west of Weatherford Road, north of 180, Peak View Country Store, Magdalena, Kelly McCoy, Forest Hills, Valley Crest, Lockett Ranch, areas of Mt. Elden Lookout Estates, north and west of Highway 89 and Silver Saddle, Hutcheson Acres, McCann Estates all of the Timberline communities including, Little Elden Springs, Black Bill Park, Wupatki Trails and Pine Mountain Estates, west of Highway 89 from Railhead north to Townsend-Winona, including the KOA Campground, Christmas Tree Estates and the U.S. Forest Service Peaks Ranger Station Office.
The remainder of the city has been placed in the "Ready" stage.
Fire officials said with the incoming monsoon weather, their job will become a little more complex. He said it is paramount for community safety to monitor the Coconino County's evacuation or "Ready, Set, Go" planning announcements.
In addition, fire officials are concerned about the impact to infrastructure and watersheds in the area.
They assured people that the 2010 Schultz Fire was a present memory for them, and have set up a post-fire flooding team to ensure they're aware of those possible dangers.
With the change of leadership, many of the local fire personnel have continued to work on this fire due to their experience and familiarity with the region.
Updated at 11 a.m. on Tuesday, July 23:
The National Weather Service is warning the east side communities of Flagstaff about the danger of flooding below the Museum Fire scar as U.S. Forest Service officials have a post-fire flooding team work in Flagstaff on Tuesday, July 23.
The areas illustrated in the fire scar runoff include Mount Elden Lookout Road, Shadow Mountain, Grandview Homes, Sunnyside and Fourth Street.
Coconino County officials told the Arizona Daily Sun that a release on the topic will be coming within the hour as they work with weather service officials.
The fire has impacted the Spruce watershed, which drains from Elden Lookout Road into Flagstaff to the east of Buffalo Park, then to Route 66.
Weather officials forecast a 60% to 80% chance of rain and expect between half an inch and an inch of rain possible between noon and 6 p.m, said Benjamin Peterson, a meteorologist, at 10:38 a.m.
Peterson said it is hard to tell how the fire has affected the burn area and thus how much the area may be able to absorb water.
Depending on how long or how hot fire burns above soil, it can cook the soil like an oven cooks pottery, according to Dick Fleishman, a local 4FRI official who is working on the Museum Fire. This process changes the soil from a sponge-like substance to a substance that more resembles a rooftop, Fleishman said.
In this case, because the fire is burning in the Dry Lake Hills, the concern is the fire has cooked the soil and created the possibility for water to move in the direction listed in the weather service's graphic.
The Burn Area Emergency Response team, or a BEAR team, has been called into Flagstaff in the last few days.
The team normally works on a burn area as it becomes more contained, said U.S. Forest Service spokesperson Steve Kliest, but given the current monsoon season and Schultz Fire history, forest officials decided to call in the team early.
Kliest said the team will then make an assessment for what needs to be done to mitigate the effects of flooding.
“BEAR will come in and will look at the topographic features, soil samples and will evaluate potential runoff,” Kliest said.
The team will be able to use this information to determine where infrastructure may be needed to break the flow of water and reduce its power to carry debris and cut into the earth, Kliest said.
Update at noon on Tuesday, July 23:
Exactly how many acres the Museum Fire is burning remains unclear: at 7 a.m. Tuesday, the count was 1,800. FEMA officials cite the acre total at 1,500, and the leadership ahead of the fire has changed their count to more than 1,000.
Incident officials said the initial number was an approximation with the intention of getting the word out. They have lowered the acreage to over 1,000 to ensure their accuracy.
Update at 12:15 p.m. on Tuesday, July 23:
The Federal Emergency Management Agency authorized the use of federal funds to help city, county, state and federal officials combat the Museum Fire burning above Flagstaff Tuesday, July 23.
On Monday, state officials submitted a help request as the fire threatened 3,600 homes in and around Flagstaff, with 90 percent of the homes threatening primary residents and 10 percent of secondary residences, according to FEMA officials. The fire was also threatening 180 businesses the Flagstaff water plant, and multiple fire stations and municipal buildings.
Jon Paxton, spokesman for the Coconino County Sheriff’s Office, suggested there is a possibility of 4,000 to 5,000 people threatened by the pre-evacuation notice. Within the evacuation area, Paxton believes there were around a dozen of homes impacted.
Robert Fenton Jr., the FEMA regional administrator, determined the Museum Fire has the potential to inflict a “major disaster.”
Updated article at 3:40 p.m. on Tuesday, July 22:
Fire officials are now estimating that the fire has increased to 2,600 acres as of Tuesday afternoon.
On Monday night, the initial leadership team indicated the fire was burning 1,800 acres. Officially, the federal leadership team confirmed that the fire has burned over 1,000 acres late Tuesday morning.
As of Tuesday at 3 p.m., the leadership team estimated that the fire has burned over 2,600 acres based on the initial Monday night estimate and the estimation that the fire burned 800 acres on Tuesday.
At this point, all fire estimations are tentative until fire officials can get a infrared airplane over the fire to map the actual burn boundaries, which officials hope to be able to do as soon as the skies clear tonight.
Coconino County officials confirmed that there have been no evacuation updates needed Tuesday for Flagstaff and the surrounding area as the Museum Fire continues to burn.
Monsoon clouds are expected to impact the mountain at 3 p.m., according to the National Weather Service. Weather officials expect lightning and showers from the storm system.
There is a community meeting at Flagstaff High School at 6 p.m. where people who are placed in the "Set" and "Go" stages of evacuation and pre-evacuation are encouraged to attend to receive more information.
This post was updated at 4:15 p.m. on Tuesday, July 23:
The National Weather Service has released a flash flood warning at 4 p.m. for the area beneath the Museum Fire scar burning above Flagstaff on Tuesday.
The area has been previously reported on by the Arizona Daily Sun and includes Mount Elden Lookout Road, Shadow Mountain, Grandview Homes, Sunnyside and Fourth Street going until Route 66.
The county and city are monitoring the situation and will issue updates as needed. Officials ask that people continue to monitor the situation and stay vigilant for alerts.
This post was updated at 5:25 p.m. on Tuesday, July 23:
While acreage totals continued to change without clarity, the latest update from the Type 1 Southwest Area Incident Management Team Two Tuesday night said the Museum Fire was now 10% contained.
Favorable weather conditions on Tuesday allowed firefighters to conduct burnout operations on the north edge of the fire.
Crews continued to look for opportunities to implement direct suppression tactics along the steep, rocky terrain. Spot fires popped up in the 1977 Radio Fire burn scar, with crews working to suppress them, while also containing the fire along Mount Elden Lookout Road.
Helicopters dropped water to cool hotspots within the fire's perimeter and the team has ordered an infrared flight over the fire to obtain a more accurate assessment of current fire size. However, smoke and weather conditions have affected the ability to obtain accurate acreage.
This post was updated at 5:35 p.m. on Tuesday, July 23:
Arizona Governor Doug Ducey was in Flagstaff on Tuesday, where he was briefed on the current situation of the Museum Fire and signed an emergency declaration opening state funding to the agencies that are fighting the blaze.
At a press conference Tuesday afternoon, Ducey thanked those fighting the fires and their families for risking their lives to help save homes and put out the fire.
“They are working day and night, they are putting themselves in harm’s way to battle what is proving to be a challenging blaze so far,” Ducey said. “I want you to rest assured that the state of Arizona is doing everything possible we can to make sure the people fighting this fire have everything they need.”
Local officials and those leading the effort to fight the fire also spoke alongside the governor.
Rick Nieto, who is heading up the type one team now managing the fire, said while the type one team is in control of the fire at the moment, he applauded the efforts made by the local agencies to manage the blaze prior to their arrival.
He said the type one team was only able to take over management of the fire so quickly because of the cooperation and relationships between his team and the local agencies.
That message was echoed by Coconino National Forest Supervisor Laura Jo West.
West said when the fire started on Sunday, the Coconino National Forest quickly put as many resources as they had available on the fire and requested the type one team.
“That team arrived quickly -- in fact, uncharacteristically quickly -- and we transitioned without missing a beat. We are very proud of those initial efforts that our local resources made towards suppressing this fire,” West said.
West also thanked local residents who have been understanding that the efforts to suppress the fire take time. West added the fire should not dissuade the forest restoration efforts that had been taking place in the current burn area.
Officials don’t yet know how those efforts may have impacted this fire but West said she is confident in the future progress of the Flagstaff Watershed Protection Project's ability to prevent severe fires in the future.
County Supervisor Art Babbott said this fire highlights the need for more forest restoration efforts, calling the fire the symptom of the largest public safety threat facing Coconino County.
Ducey said he is supportive of better policies regarding forest management at the state level, but did not go into detail.
“I think in times of crisis it’s not time to play politics; it’s all hands on deck. Let’s get the fire put out, let's contain this, let’s do everything we can to stop and prevent flooding,” Ducey said. “We're having too many wildfires too often. They are burning hotter than normal, it’s affecting our environment, it’s affecting the watershed and it’s affecting the health of the forest. But let’s do job one first.”
County Supervisor Liz Archuleta said the county is taking steps to help mitigate any post fire flooding.
“Ten years ago in my district, we experienced the Schultz Fire and floods, and as with that fire, with this fire we know we are going to experience post wildfire flooding,” Archuleta said. “The Museum Fire reminds us how strong and how resilient our community is.”
Archuleta said the county is providing residents with sandbags and has worked to set up some barriers to help mitigate the effects of flooding. Archuleta asked residents in affected areas to also look out for their neighbors, especially those they know have special needs or may be unable to lift sandbags.
Flagstaff Mayor Coral Evans asked residents of areas that may see flooding to pay attention to any alerts authorities send out and follow the instructions of public safety personnel who may be walking door to door in impacted areas.
This post will be updated throughout the day as more information becomes available.
Scott Buffon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter @scottbuffon or by phone at (928) 556-2250.