High winds in Arizona on Tuesday whipped up a wildfire that created 100-foot flames and spread rapidly over dry ground, forcing the evacuations of more than 700 homes.
The Tunnel Fire, about 14 miles northeast of Flagstaff, was reported on Sunday afternoon and grew to about 100 acres by Tuesday morning. By sunset, it had spread to an area of more than 6,000 acres, or 9.3 square miles, and had crossed U.S. Highway 89 as it moved rapidly northeast, away from the city and through a sparsely populated area, officials said.
There were no immediate reports of injuries or other casualties as of Tuesday night.
The blaze was completely uncontained as of Tuesday evening, officials from the Coconino National Forest said. More than 200 firefighters and other personnel were assigned to it, and a section of Highway 89, which runs north from Flagstaff toward the Utah border, was closed.
Patrice Horstman, the chair of Flagstaff’s board of supervisors, said at a news conference on Tuesday that 766 households and more than 1,000 animals had been evacuated so far.
At least two dozen structures had been destroyed, and hundreds of others were threatened, Jim Driscoll, the sheriff of Coconino County, said at the news conference.
The fire’s quick progression made the evacuation effort more challenging than previous ones, he added, and personnel from multiple agencies had “some difficulty getting some people to leave” their homes despite a mandatory evacuation order.
The cause of the fire was unclear as of late Tuesday evening. Matt McGrath, a district ranger at the Coconino National Forest, said that an investigative team would be in the area on Wednesday.
Wildfires are increasing in size and intensity in the Western United States, and wildfire seasons are growing longer. Recent research has suggested that the heat and dryness associated with global warming are major reasons for the increase in bigger and stronger fires.
Flagstaff, a college town of about 76,000 residents, is approximately 150 miles north of Phoenix, the state capital, and about 80 miles south of the Grand Canyon.
Firefighting aircraft in the Flagstaff area were called off on Tuesday because of the “pretty much unprecedented winds that we were experiencing,” True Brown, the fire management officer for the Flagstaff Ranger District, told reporters.
“When we’re talking flame lengths upwards of 100-plus feet, there’s really no piece of aviation or equipment that’s going to be able to stop it,” Mr. Brown said.
He added that firefighters planned to patrol the area on Wednesday to secure as much of the fire’s uncontrolled edge as possible.
The success of that effort will partly depend on how fast the wind is blowing. Brian Klimowski, the head meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in Flagstaff, said at the news conference that the forecast was for wind gusts of 35 to 45 miles per hour until about midnight. The gusts will probably taper overnight and remain lighter for a few days, he added, but another weather system was expected to bring high winds later in the week.