As Museum Fire grows, neighborhoods north of Flagstaff are on edge

FLAGSTAFF – Residents along Elden Lookout Road remained out of their homes Tuesday as firefighters struggled to contain the Museum Fire, which broke out over the weekend 1 mile north of the city.

Coconino County sheriff’s deputies have told several other neighborhoods to be ready to evacuate on a moment’s notice. They include Magdalena, Forest Hills, Valley Crest, Lockett Ranch, Mount Elden Lookout Estates, Wupatki Trails and west of U.S. 89 from Railhead north to Townsend-Winona, including the KOA campground. About 5,000 people are on alert to leave.

Residents living near Schultz Pass and Elden Lookout Road were ordered to evacuate Monday evening so firefighters could conduct burnout operations. The fire, which has burned about 1,800 acres in the Dry Lake Hills area of the Coconino National Forest, is zero percent contained. Authorities predict it will burn to the east, away from Flagstaff.

Related story

Logging by copter: Millions spent to thin forest on steep slopes of Mount Elden

About 600 firefighters, including eight hotshot crews, are battling the blaze, along with air tankers, helicopters, bulldozers and water engines. Fire officials say the rugged, heavily forested terrain has posed more of a problem than the warm, dry weather.

The American Red Cross has set up a shelter at Sinagua Middle School, on Butler Avenue in Flagstaff, and many people took to social media to open their homes to those in need. A community meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday at Flagstaff High School.

“Anytime you have a fire, there are a couple things that are key in how that fire is active or not,” said Brady Smith, spokesman for the Coconino National Forest. “Topography and weather are two of the biggest things. The last week, we’ve had a warming trend and it’s been dry.”

Many of the neighborhoods are the same area that evacuated nine years ago for the Schultz Fire, which caused several evacuations through monsoon season, as mudslides killed one person and destroyed several homes.

The National Weather Service is calling for scattered storms throughout the week.

Judy Jordan and her family started packing Sunday when sheriff’s deputies cleared hikers and mountain bikers off the trails just north of her neighborhood. Her home is near a water source, so aircraft were everywhere.

“It was just a constant flood of vehicles overhead,” Jordan said. “The walls were rattling. The windows were rattling. My heart was pounding. It was intense. They were low flying because we’re near the tank, but they were on it.”

Monday afternoon, the sheriff told the Jordans it was time to leave, so they headed to a friend’s house.
Coconino County spokesman Matt Rudig reminded residents to stay informed, sign up for alerts, check the county’s and Coconino National Forest’s social media pages and Inciweb.

This story is part of Elemental: Covering Sustainability, a new multimedia collaboration between Cronkite News, Arizona PBS, KJZZ, KPCC, Rocky Mountain PBS and PBS SoCal.