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Strong winds, dry air propel Tunnel Fire in Northern Arizona

By Abby Bustin, CNN

The Tunnel Fire, which has been burning across northern Arizona’s Coconino County for nearly a week, has now charred more than 21,000 acres, according to the US Forest Service.

Currently, the department reports only 3% of the Tunnel Fire is considered contained.

Strong winds and dry air currents from the north and northeast have hampered the efforts of firefighters to gain control, fire managers explained in a Saturday news release, adding crews were being repositioned to respond.

Bulldozers and ground crews were working to build fire lines to halt or slow the fire’s advance, officials said.

As of Saturday morning, Coconino County recorded 334 personnel on the scene with resources including 18 engines, nine crews, five bulldozers, three helicopters and one air attack plane.

The blaze started Sunday just north of Flagstaff. At least two dozen buildings have been destroyed, officials said, and residents of hundreds of homes near Flagstaff were ordered to evacuate earlier this week.

The cause of the blaze is still under investigation, and US Highway 89 remains closed from milepost 425 to 445.

Parts of the Coconino National Forest are also closed, according to the US Forest Service.

The forest service advised drivers to not take Forest Road 244A to avoid the closure of US 89. “Maps are redirecting people around the fire using Forest Service roads, but those roads are UNSAFE and blocked off,” the agency tweeted.

State of emergency in effect

A state of emergency in Coconino County declared by Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey Thursday remains in effect.

An estimated 2,068 people live in the evacuation area, Patrice Horstman, chair of the Coconino County Board of Supervisors, said Wednesday. “From this, 766 households have been evacuated,” along with more than 1,000 animals, Horstman said.

The emergency declaration means officials can provide needed resources to impacted communities to “respond to and recover from the fire’s destruction,” Ducey said in a news release.

“As strong winds fuel fires across Arizona, we are doing everything we can to keep Arizonans safe,” the governor said. He went on to urge residents to “follow the guidance of fire officials, stay safe and respond to any evacuation notices.”

“We will continue to monitor the situation and deploy additional resources as necessary,” Ducey said.

Wildfires rage in other states

Elsewhere, crews are fighting multiple wildfires in New Mexico and Nebraska.

Half of New Mexico is facing issues related to 20 active wildfires in the state, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said during a news conference Saturday, noting 16 of the state’s 33 counties are battling flames.

“Our risk season is incredibly and dangerously early,” Grisham said, adding that while it’s only April, the state is already seeing fire activity that resembles May and June.

The governor a declared a state of emergency Saturday for Mora County, she said in a tweet. She’d already implemented similar declarations for Colfax, Lincoln, San Miguel, and Valencia counties Friday, according to a press release from her office.

“We need people to leave areas that have fire warnings … the risks are too great,” Grisham said. “There is no reason for us to lose anyone because they made a decision to stay.”

Meanwhile, Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts activated more than two dozen National Guard personnel to help fight wildfires whipped up by high winds and dry conditions, the Guard said Saturday.

The crews will help on ground and by air in the state’s southwest, where wildfires prompted evacuations Saturday. The entire city of Cambridge, home to about 1,000 people, was ordered to evacuate.

™ & © 2022 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.

CNN’s Paradise Afshar, Michelle Watson, Andy Rose and Steve Almasy contributed to this report.

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