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Arizona governor declares state of emergency for areas affected by Tunnel Fire

<i>Coconino National Forest/AP</i><br/>The Tunnel Fire
Coconino National Forest/AP
The Tunnel Fire

By Paradise Afshar and Steve Almasy, CNN

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey on Thursday declared a state of emergency in Coconino County due to the 20,000-acre Tunnel wildfire.

The blaze started Sunday just north of Flagstaff and is 0% contained, according to the InciWeb website, a national wildfire clearinghouse. At least two dozen buildings have been destroyed, officials said, and residents of hundreds of homes near Flagstaff have been ordered to evacuate.

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.

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.

Fire crews are prioritizing residences, buildings and watersheds, according to a daily update on InciWeb.

“Current firefighting resources on scene include 179 firefighters, four 20 person hand crews, four dozers, 21 engines, one air attack plane, one Type 3 helicopter, two Type 1 helicopters and additional air assets on order,” InciWeb reported.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation, according to InciWeb.

The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality told residents to keep an eye on the weather Thursday.

“As the next weather system approaches, gusty southwest winds of 25-35mph are forecast this afternoon,” agency officials noted on their website. “These winds may increase fire behavior and smoke production. Given the winds, smoke is forecast to stay low to the ground as it moves toward the northeast. The highest smoke impacts are forecast across the Navajo and Hopi reservations.”

The agency said gusty winds will continue overnight but the wind pattern will keep smoke away from Flagstaff.

Earlier this week, the fire prompted officials to shut down a portion of US Highway 89 in both directions north of Flagstaff. Officials said it might reopen before the weekend depending on weather conditions and fire activity.

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.

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CNN’s Jason Hanna and Amir Vera contributed to this report.

Article Topic Follows: cnn-weather/environment

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