Rain Brings Fire Relief And Flood Concerns To Flagstaff

By Laurel Morales, Jimmy Jenkins
Published: Wednesday, July 24, 2019 - 5:56am
Updated: Wednesday, July 24, 2019 - 3:22pm

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Laurel Morales/KJZZ
Sunnyside neighbors help each other fill sandbags to prepare for Museum Fire flooding.

Monsoon storms arrived Tuesday in Flagstaff dousing the 1,400 acre Museum Fire and helping firefighters reach 10% containment.

But Incident Commander Rich Nieto said they could still use more monsoon rains.

"We have not got the rain that we'd like to have," Nieto said. "It's very deceiving in regard to the cloud cover and what you see and some of the humidity we do have. Looking at the long term weather end of the week we're looking at drying to occur."

Operations Chief Todd Abel said the rain has allowed them to change their strategy.

"Instead of this big box, which we have completed, we're going to look at going a little tighter due to the humidity and rain we've got on the fire, so we can keep that footprint small and protect that watershed and all the values at risk around it," Abel said.

Laurel Morales
"Instead of this big box, which we have completed, we’re going to look at going a little tighter," Operations Chief Todd Abel told reporters Wednesday morning.

Fire analyst Rob Beery told a packed high school auditorium the fire won’t grow much bigger thanks to rains in the forecast. But Beery said there’s no recorded history of fire in the burn area.

“That is really heavy fuel in there,” Beery said. “There’s a lot of high intensity fire on this fire. Obviously you folks who saw it when it took off. So that high intensity fire tends to make it more prone to flooding.”

Four neighborhoods, about 600 people, that are in the path of the flood are loading up on sandbags to prepare.

But many people like Ed Wolf evacuated by the Museum Fire feel helpless.

“We’re in a quandary because we’re worried about the flooding,” Wolf said. “And if we can’t get in there to sandbag, what can we do?”

Many have been reminded of the Schultz Fire and its subsequent flooding nine years ago that killed one person and destroyed several homes.

Another meeting will be held Wednesday night to help people prepare for flooding.

Some Flagstaff residents have been allowed to return home after they were forced to evacuate due to the Museum Fire. But fires and floods still threaten the area.

Sixty to 70 homes along Elden Lookout Road in Flagstaff were thought to be in imminent danger, and several hundred people were forced to leave.

On Wednesday, the Coconino County Sheriff’s Office announced the residents could return. Sheriff’s Office spokesman Jon Paxton says people living in the area should remain in the “set” stage of preparedness:

“So set basically is we want you to know there is a danger in the area, we need you to be prepared to evacuate," Paxton said.

But he said there is no immediate danger. Spotty rain showers have helped crews fighting the Museum Fire, but according to the U.S. Forest Service, it is still only 10% contained and nearly 2,000 acres in size.

With additional rain in the forecast, incident management teams also are preparing for the possibility of flooding.

Laurel Morales/KJZZ
An outpouring of help arrives with the first drops of the storm.

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