Illegal campfire blamed for devastating wildfire
The Tinder Fire burning near Flagstaff, Arizona, was caused by an abandoned illegal campfire, according to the Coconino National Forest.
The fire has burned 11,420 acres with 0% containment since it began Friday, according to the US Forest Service.
Fire restrictions ignored
The fire was first reported around midday on Friday, despite stage one fire restrictions being in place. Stage one restrictions prohibit “building, maintaining, attending, or using a fire” anywhere other than a developed campsite or picnic area. The restrictions were put in place in anticipation of extreme fire behavior due to weather conditions. The area has been under stage two restrictions — which prohibits campfires at all — since Tuesday.
“Any time we enter restrictions or have even closed the forest, we still continue to find abandoned and illegal campfires,” said Andy Pederson, with US Forest Service. “This shows extreme lack of care for public safety and our natural resources when people would have an illegal campfire, much less abandon an illegal campfire.”
Finding the person or persons who set the illegal fire will be difficult as witnesses are “often nonexistent,” Coconino National Forest authorities said.
Hundreds of homes threatened
More than 1,000 structures are threatened by the Tinder Fire, and about 559 personnel, including 15 hotshot crews, are fighting the blaze.
Fire officials said the blaze had “major growth” on Sunday, CNN affiliate KOLD-TV reports.
The Coconino National Forest tweeted that winds were blowing very hard east-southeast with gusts up to 30 mph.
The fire also caused major road closures, according to the Arizona Department of Transportation.
The Arizona Public Service, a state electric company, said via Twitter that it was “coordinating with emergency personnel” and was ready to de-energize lines if needed.
CNN meteorologist Michael Guy said weather conditions are improving in the area overnight into Wednesday with showers, and even snow at higher elevations, expected. These conditions will continue throughout the day on Wednesday with rain, lower temperatures and higher relative humidity values anticipated, which will give firefighters a boost in trying to contain the blaze.
State of emergency
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey has declared a state of emergency in Coconino County in response to the growing fire.
“I’m issuing today’s declaration to ensure that they have the necessary resources to protect the lives, pets and property of Arizonans,” Ducey said in a statement Monday.
The Coconino County Sheriff’s Office ordered evacuations Sunday for communities north, east and west of Highway 87. The evacuations will be in effect until further notice, CNN affiliate KNXV reports. An evacuation site was set up at a Navajo casino resort, after being moved from a junior high school because of smoke.
“Public safety is a top priority,” Ducey said.