Republican Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey declared a state of emergency Thursday to better respond to a more than 20,000-acre wildfire burning in the northern part of the state.
Residents outside Flagstaff first reported a fire Sunday afternoon, according to CBS News. It quickly spread, feeding off trees from the Coconino National Forest, which has since been partially closed to the public. The state has sent 371 firefighters, 30 engines, three helicopters and one plane to battle the blaze, according to the Arizona Republic.
“As strong winds fuel fires across Arizona, we are doing everything we can to keep Arizonans safe. We pray for the safety of the responders and firefighters in Northern Arizona, and are thankful for their dedication to protecting the lives, pets and property of Arizonans,” Ducey said in a statement.
We are declaring a state of emergency for the #TunnelFire in Coconino County. Our team is on the ground working with first responders to address this fast-moving blaze and keep Arizonans safe. https://t.co/FqDAlYdHOc 1/
— Doug Ducey (@DougDucey) April 21, 2022
“We will continue to monitor the situation and deploy additional resources as necessary,” he added.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) approved the use of federal funds Tuesday to help combat the fire and aid in evacuations. More than 2,000 people live in areas designated for evacuation, and 766 households had been evacuated as of Wednesday, Coconino County Board of Supervisors chair Patrice Horstman said.
The Tunnel Fire, named after a tunnel landmark located in the forest, is one of several currently burning in the Southwest. Authorities evacuated homes and roads near Taos, New Mexico in response to a wildfire Thursday, and a fire in southern Colorado forced the evacuation of 100 homes. (RELATED: Deadly Wildfires Spread Across Western US)
The extensive blazes mark the beginning of wildfire season in the southwest, according to Brian Klimowski of the National Weather Service.
“It’s going to be a long one this year,” he said Wednesday, according to CBS.
Ducey called a special legislative session in 2021 to respond to the growing threat of wildfires, which authorities blamed on abnormally low levels of rain and abnormally high levels of wind. The state legislature ultimately allocated an extra $75 million to respond to more than 524,000 burned acres.