Some evacuation orders lifted; Pipeline Fire explodes to over 20K acres

The Pipeline Fire burning near Flagstaff has exploded to more than 20,000 acres early Tuesday.
The Pipeline Fire burning near Flagstaff has exploded to more than 20,000 acres early Tuesday.(Arizona's Family)
Published: Jun. 14, 2022 at 7:00 AM MST
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FLAGSTAFF, AZ (3TV/CBS 5/AP) -- Coconino County forest officials say the Pipeline Fire exploded in size, growing to more than 20,000 acres, but better weather conditions are allowing crews to start letting some people back into their homes Tuesday afternoon.

The Coconino National Forest Service conducted an infrared flyover overnight to provide a better look at how and where the fire is growing, in addition to providing a better estimate of how big the fire is. On Tuesday morning, authorities estimated that about 20,178 acres had burned with zero containment. Firefighters have seen calmer winds and slightly cooler temperatures as they hope to get a better handle on the blaze that has mostly spared homes. However, the flames made a run into a wilderness area and reached a lava dome volcano.

Weaker winds let air tankers fly as firefighters held the lines during certain areas of the Pipeline Fire near Flagstaff.

Authorities downgraded evacuation orders Tuesday, but people in about 700 homes still were under orders to stay out of the area, the Coconino County Sheriff’s Office said. Another 280 homes have been evacuated because of another wildfire, the Haywire Fire, which just combined with a smaller fire called the Double Fire. That wildfire, now solely called the Haywire Fire, has burned 4,052 acres and has zero containment. A Type 2 team will manage both fires until a Type 1 team assumes control on Wednesday. About 360 firefighters are battling the Pipeline Fire, with resources on the ground and in the air. About 500 staff members are fighting both fires.

Latest evacuation orders (updated 3 p.m. Tuesday, June 14)

The following areas are listed under a “GO” status:

  • Timberline northwest of Campbell and Highway 89
  • Area of Shultz Pass Road
  • Arizona Snowbowl
  • O’Leary
  • Crater Estates

The following areas are listed as “SET” status (pre-evacuation):

  • Fernwood Estates
  • Hutchinson Acres
  • Johnson Ranch
  • Mt. Elden Lookout Road/Mt. Elden Estates
  • Antelope Hills
  • McCann Estates
  • North Doney Park/Doney Park South

A shelter at Sinagua Middle School is set up. Nearly the entire northern part of the Coconino National Forest is closed, from Interstate 40 toward the north. Smoke is impacting areas of Doney Park and homes northeast of Doney Park, including the Navajo Nation. Part of Highway 89, the main route to reach the Grand Canyon’s East Rim entrance and through the Navajo Nation and up into Utah, is still closed.

Community still reeling from Tunnel Fire

While the fire continues to ravage, parts of the community are still reeling from the last devastating wildfire. Earlier this year, the Tunnel Fire destroyed about two dozen structures and forced hundreds of people to leave their homes. One home and one “secondary structure” have been destroyed in this current fire. Additionally, recreation is being impacted, as Arizona Snowbowl ski resort has announced it’s closed until further notice.

“I want to send out a heartfelt thanks to the community. I know coming off the Tunnel Fire and the impacts of that, this was unwelcome. Please rest assured there are lots of men and women out there standing guard tonight and will continue to,” said Incident Commander Aaron Graeser during a news conference Monday evening as residents anxiously waited to see how conditions were going for firefighters.

Meanwhile, Helen Holmes, an evacuee, told Arizona’s Family her greatest fear as the out-on-control wildfire has the potential to get even more dangerously close to homes. “The house [and] the land. you can rebuild that, But a life you can’t, so it is traumatic,” she said.

Improving weather should help in the firefight

Arizona’s Family First Alert Meteorologist April Warnecke forecasted lighter winds and slightly cooler temperatures. She said that winds should relax significantly after two days of strong winds that hampered firefighting efforts in the air. Southwesterly winds of around 15 miles per hour are expected, and temperatures may drop slightly for the next few days before warming back up.

What sparked the Pipeline Fire?

On Sunday, authorities arrested 57-year-old Matthew Riser after a forest official said he started the fire and tried to drive off in a white pickup truck along Snowbowl Road. Riser reportedly admitted to lighting toilet paper, which he called “sh**” paper, and had tried to put it out with his sleeping bag, which was 80 yards from where the fire started. Riser later said he was homeless and had been camping in the forest for two days. According to court paperwork, he also admitted to seeing the “no campfire” signs when he drove out.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.