A rapidly-moving wildfire in Arizona fueled by “unprecedented” high winds has forced the evacuation of more than 750 homes.

Flames as high as 100 feet (30 meters) raced through an area of scattered homes, dry grass and Ponderosa pine trees on the outskirts of Flagstaff as wind gusts of up to 50 mph (80 kph) pushed the blaze over a major highway.

By Tuesday afternoon, the Tunnel Fire, which was first reported on Sunday afternoon, moved northeast away from the more heavily populated areas of Flagstaff, home to Northern Arizona University, and toward Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, officials said.

The wildfire was 0 percent contained by Tuesday evening.

Fire Management Officer True Brown said the wildfire was being fueled by “unprecedented” winds.

“The fire is rapidly moving in a northeasterly direction with the significant winds that we’ve experienced today,” said Brown, CNN reported. “I cannot stress enough how rapidly this fire is moving.”

Residents of the Timberline and Moon Crater areas were ordered to evacuate with the assistance of deputies, as the fire moved so rapidly.

“The fire was moving so fast many of those officers were in harm’s way themselves,” Coconino County Sheriff Jim Driscoll said Tuesday evening, NBC News reported.

According to Patrice Horstman, chair of the Coconino County Board of Supervisors, the evacuation area houses roughly 2,068 people and more than 1,000 animals.

“From this 766 households have been evacuated,” said Horstman.

Driscoll said officers received calls about a man trapped in his home, but that firefighters were unable to reach him.

“We don’t know if he made it out or not,” Driscoll said.

Driscoll said authorities won’t be able to determine whether anyone was injured in the wildfire until the flames subside.

Coconino County officials said during a Tuesday evening press briefing that about 250 structures remained threatened in the area popular with hikers and off-road vehicle users and where astronauts have trained amid volcanic cinder pits.

Earlier Tuesday, the wildfire shut down U.S. 89, the main route between Flagstaff and far northern Arizona, and communities on the Navajo Nation. The high winds grounded aircraft that could drop water and fire retardant on the blaze.

Arizona Public Service Co., the state’s largest utility, shut off power to about 625 customers to keep firefighters safe, a spokeswoman said.

About 200 firefighters were battling the flames, but more are expected as a top-level national management team takes over later this week.

“It’s good in that it’s not headed toward a very populated area, and it’s headed toward less fuel,” said Coconino National Forest spokesman Brady Smith. “But depending on the intensity of the fire, fire can still move across cinders.”

Investigators don’t know yet what caused the wildfire.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency said in a news release that it had approved a request from Coconino County for federal resources to help battle the wildfire. A Fire Management Assistance Grant will provide federal funding for up to 75 percent of eligible firefighting costs, the release said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


Isabel van Brugen is an award-winning journalist and currently a news reporter at The Epoch Times. She holds a master’s in newspaper journalism from City, University of London.

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