A fast-moving wildfire in rural Arizona nearly tripled in size on Wednesday and has forced thousands to flee as the wind-driven blaze is expected to worsen with gusts reaching up to 50mph in the state on Thursday and up to 70mph in neighbouring New Mexico on Friday.
The blaze, since named the Tunnel Fire, burned across largely unpopulated hills and valleys approximately 14 miles north of Flagstaff, Arizona, according to a US Forest Service statement.
It has grown from claiming 6,000 acres on Tuesday to 19,712 acres by Thursday, a mass of scorched land that is larger than the island of Manhattan.
Firefighters in the region have so far contained 0 per cent of the blaze and between Arizona and New Mexico, they’re currently battling to put out seven wildfires actively burning across the two states.
“I cannot stress enough how rapidly this fire is moving,” True Brown, a fire management officer with the Coconino National Forest, told reporters late Tuesday. “I cannot stress how important it is to leave the fire area.”
At least 2,000 residents have been forced from their homes, Reuters reported, and the Coconino County Sheriff’s Office’s most recent estimate suggests that 25 structures have burned in the Tunnel Fire so far.
There have been no reports of injuries or deaths from the wind-driven blaze and according to the Associated Press, various organisations in the surrounding areas have stepped up to find temporary shelter for the evacuees from the approximately 765 homes that were forced to be emptied out.
The Tunnel Fire began on Sunday at approximately 4:30pm local time, and the cause of the blaze remains unknown.
Windy conditions and natural gas leaks continued to #challenge firefighters as the #TunnelFire grew. #stateofemergency #wildfire
(🎥: Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management via Spectee)
Visit AP Video Hub / Reuters Connect / https://t.co/ZacBeDlYm8 for more videos. pic.twitter.com/HJxkbEtwYg
— Spectee Inc. (@SpecteeInc) April 21, 2022
So tough to imagine wrangling horses as a wildfire races toward you. This was the view near the #TunnelFire on Tuesday as the Seger’s evacuated. They lost their cabin but everyone, including horses, are safe. #azfire #azfamily pic.twitter.com/YEuQbNIgO0
— Ian Schwartz (@SchwartzTV) April 21, 2022
Explosive #wildfire season as blaze in #Arizona reaches 20,000 acres -The area caught in more than two decades of largely unrelenting drought
Why didn’t we stop #climate change when we had the chance?https://t.co/D6yOyBm7Er#TunnelFire @GretaThunberg @ClimateChangeTF pic.twitter.com/OiVzXMgTbC
— netzfrauen☮️ (@netzfrauen) April 21, 2022
A team of 260 firefighters, three dozers, 24 engines, one air attack plane, one helicopter and additional air assets are all working to conrol the fire, the US Forest Service said.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said earlier last month that Arizona’s drought was expected to continue into the spring months across the state, placing it at a higher risk for wildfires and putting additional stress on water resources and agriculture.