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Pipeline Fire: The latest on the wildfire near Flagstaff

July 5: Fire 90% contained

As of July 5, officials reported the fire, which hard burned more than 26,000 acres, is 90% contained. 

June 24: Man accused of starting fire released from custody

A federal judge ordered the release of the man accused of burning toilet paper in the area where the Pipeline Fire erupted in northern Arizona earlier this month.

Matthew Riser was released from custody into an alternative housing program Thursday.

The judge in his case ruled he must stay within Flagstaff. Riser is banned from three area national forests and he must either seek employment or keep a current job. Riser must participate in mental health and alcohol treatment programs.

Riser has not been charged with any crimes specifically related to damage from the 40-square-mile Pipeline Fire. He faces two misdemeanor charges: illegally starting a fire and residing in a national forest. The fire destroyed at least one home.

As of Friday, the fire was 85% contained.

June 21: Firefighters prepare for mud and flood waters

Firefighters working on the Pipeline Fire in Flagstaff’s San Francisco Peaks are preparing for mud and flood waters.

Forecasts anticipate more cloud cover and some rain to fall on the fire. So far, it’s burned more than 40 square miles of forest and at least one home. Officials said firefighters will now focus on repairing fire lines at the fire’s southern edge where it still threatens communities.

While thunderstorms could bring some needed rain, they could also introduce new lightning strikes. More residents have been allowed in as evacuation orders are lifted.

June 20: Pipeline Fire is 50% contained

Two large wildfires continue burning in northern Arizona and one is burning in the southern part of the state.

The largest of them is the Pipeline Fire north of Flagstaff. It’s currently 50% contained after consuming more than 41 square miles. The nearby Haywire Fire has scorched about nine square miles and is 40% contained.  

Though they are within miles of each other, the Forest Service says they are not expected to merge due to the scar from the Tunnel Fire earlier this year.

Meanwhile, southwest of Tucson, the Contreras Fire burning near Kitt Peak has consumed more than 30 square miles and is 40% contained.  It has burned some buildings near the observatory and forced evacuations of a small community on the Tohono O’odham Nation.

High winds and temperatures may moderately increase fire activity in the coming days.

June 16: Coconino National Forest officials request to close down the forest rejected

Regional officials have rejected a request from the Coconino National Forest to fully close down the forest. 

The decision means no Stage 3 fire restrictions in spite of the powerful wind-driven fires that have ripped through northeastern Flagstaff and evacuated neighborhoods twice in two months. Currently, two wildfires continue to burn more than 40 square miles in the area and neighborhoods remain evacuated. 

Local forest service officials had asked to implement Stage 3 fire restrictions after the Pipeline Fire exploded in the San Francisco Peaks earlier this week. 

"We did submit a package to the regional office requesting a full-force closure and the decision was made to implement area closures instead," said Coconino National Forest spokesperson Randi Shaffer.

A full closure requires consideration of the availability of firefighting resources, fuel moisture and how hard it would be to contain a fire. Local officials requested the Stage 3 restrictions Tuesday after 50 mile an hour winds forced 2,000 homes to evacuate.

Instead, a partial closure of Coconino and Kaibab national forests will go into effect beginning Friday.

June 15: Flagstaff to enter Stage 3 fire restrictions 8 a.m. Friday

Flagstaff Mayor Paul Deasy announced on Twitter on Wednesday the city will enter into Stage 3 restrictions at 8 a.m. Friday morning.

Deasy specified that means no smoking in public spaces; no open fires or charcoal on private property; no propane grills on private property on red flag days and the entire Flagstaff Urban Trail system will close.

The city is currently enduring two different wildfires that have choked the city skies with smoke. The  Pipeline Fire in the San Francisco Peaks is now at 36 square miles and a little more than a third contained. The Haywire Fire at about 5,000 acres and not contained.

The city’s decision comes as Coconino National Forest officials have asked regional and national headquarters to close the national forest until rain moisture has developed.

June 15: Officials begin closing Coconino National Forest

Tuesday night, forest officials told a weary public tired of the series of wildfires that have ravaged northern Arizona that they have begun the process of closing the Coconino National Forest. 

Flagstaff residents have lived through four wildfires that forced evacuations twice in two months. It’s suspected two started from lightning and have now merged into one. Authorities suspect a man burning his soiled toilet paper caused a third. In April, a fourth destroyed some 30 homes.

At a community meeting, Coconino National Forest official Nick Glidden told residents most people follow the rules restricting most fires in the forest.

"But as we’ve all seen up here, it takes once," said Glidden.

He said forest officials asked regional and national leaders to implement Stage 3 restrictions. That would bar entry into the forest.

Helen Levathes was evacuated during the Tunnel Fire in April and again this week.

"I end up feeling very mixed. I mean, yes it’s great to close the forest but even with no campfires, look what happened, guys burning toilet paper," said Levathes.

Combined, the fires have now burned some 40 square miles.

June 14: Pipeline Fire meeting to be held in Flagstaff

More than 2,100 homes were evacuated Monday afternoon in northeastern Flagstaff as powerful winds pushed three different fires, including the massive Pipeline Fire. By Tuesday, those winds had died down significantly and officials were allowing people to return home.

Those three fires are now two and total more than 30 miles of burn area from the eastern flanks of the San Francisco Peaks heading east. 

"The main body of the fire is to the north and west of the old Tunnel Fire which burned about six weeks ago," said Forest Service spokeswoman Cathie Pauls.

That fire destroyed about 30 homes. The fires this time have burned through more land but significantly less properties. So far one home has reportedly been destroyed.

A man accused of sparking the Pipeline Fire by burning his used toilet paper while camping will be back in court Thursday.

Officials are holding a meeting for evacuees of the Pipeline and Haywire Fires at 6 p.m., Tuesday, at Sinagua Middle School, 3950 E. Butler Ave., Flagstaff.

June 14: Pipeline Fire nearly quadruples in size; other fires combine

The  Pipeline Firehas nearly quadrupled in size overnight. The two other nearby fires around the Flagstaff area have merged. 

The Pipeline Fire grew from 5,000 acres burned to over 17,000 from Monday to Tuesday. 

The  Haywire Fire, northwest of the Pipeline blaze, absorbed the Double Fire and has burned more than 2,800 acres.

shelter has opened south of both fires at Sinagua middle school. And parts of Highway 89 from Milepost 445 to East Campbell Avenue remain closed.

June 14: Northern Arizona watches winds as Western wildfires blaze

The northern Arizona city of Flagstaff is synonymous with mountains — lush with ponderosa pines, meadows and hiking trails that are a respite from the desert heat.

Now, parts of them are burning yet again, fueled by winds that grounded air resources Monday. Fire crews were anticipating more moderate winds Tuesday and throughout the week, which could help them get a better handle on the blaze that has largely spared homes but made a run into a wilderness area and toward a lava dome volcano.

Hear Michel Marizco discuss the fires with host Mark Brodie on The Show

flagstaff-wildfires-show-mm-mb-20220614.mp3

Residents around the city looked toward the mountains as smoke billowed through the air and winds howled, some scared, some nervous — most hoping that moisture in the forecast late this week brings some relief.

“We're most definitely dry,” Flagstaff resident Colin Challifour said late Monday. “The forests are dry. It's unfortunate. You don't like to see it.”

Roughly 2,500 homes have been evacuated because of two wildfires burning on the outskirts of Flagstaff. One home and a secondary structure burned, the Coconino County Sheriff's Office said. Hundreds of other people in California and New Mexico have also been forced to flee homes threatened by wildfires.

In northern Arizona, Coconino County declared an emergency because of the wildfire.

Fire incident Cmdr. Aaron Graeser said the Flagstaff-area blaze is one of the top priorities in the country for firefighting resources. It was estimated at 8 square miles late Monday, but fire managers haven't been able to do aerial mapping.

Two other smaller wildfires northeast of the blaze merged, forcing evacuations in a more remote area Monday.

Wildfires broke out early this spring in multiple states in the Western U.S., where climate change and an enduring drought are fanning the frequency and intensity of forest and grassland fires. A springtime fire outside Flagstaff destroyed more than two dozen homes. Most of the residents who evacuated then are out of their homes again because of this latest wildfire.

June 13: 3 fires burning near Flagstaff

Three rapidly growing fires are now burning near Flagstaff. The Pipeline Fire has burned more than 5,000 acres, the Haywire Fire has burned more than 1,600, and the new Double Fire is at an estimated 500 acres so far.

Coconino National Forest officials say an arrest has been made in connection to the Pipeline fire. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has been authorized to help fight the fire and several evacuations and closures are underway. 

Meanwhile, east of that blaze is the Haywire Fire with its own evacuations underway. A third fire was announced as well called the Double Fire. The Coconino National Forest has closed nearly the entire northern portion of the forest from Interstate 40 toward the north.

June 13: Man arrested in connection with Pipeline Fire

The man identified as a suspect in the Pipeline Fire is scheduled to appear in U.S. District Court in Flagstaff on Monday morning.

Matthew Riser, 57, was reportedly seen the area after the fire started, driving a white pickup truck off Snowbowl Road, officials said Sunday. He was detained during a traffic stop a short time later.

Riser told investigators he had burned his used toilet paper after defecating in the woods and placed it under a rock where it then ignited. He told authorities he didn't think it would smolder all night.

June 12: Flagstaff wildfire forces evacuations, steadily grows

Evacuations are in effect in parts of northern Arizona as a wildfire about 6 miles north of Flagstaff steadily grew Sunday, authorities said.

Coconino National Forest officials said the wildfire was reported at 10:15 a.m. by a fire lookout. The fire has produced a noticeable plume of smoke.

Coconino County Sheriff’s officials said the Arizona Snowbowl and people living in the area of the west Schultz Pass Road area must evacuate. People living in Doney Park and the area near Mt. Elden should be prepared.

Euelda King and her family evacuated their home for the second time this year because of wildfires. She hadn’t settled back in from a springtime blaze before leaving again Sunday, this time able to grab photographs and clothing she didn’t get earlier.

“Here we go again,” she said.

The family of 11 is planning to stay at the Navajo Nation casino, which is offering assistance to tribal members who have evacuated.

The family was waiting in a parking lot ahead of road closure signs, watching smoke billow through the air and aircraft flying overhead.

“The winds are high, and I think they’re going to have a little bit of a battle with it,” she said.

Wind gusts were sweeping the smoke through Schultz Pass toward Doney Park and authorities said recreationists were being told to leave immediately, especially those in the Schultz Pass area.

American Red Cross Arizona has opened a shelter at Sinagua Middle School for residents who have evacuated.

“With this thing going as fast as it is, it could get much closer, of course hoping it doesn’t,” King said.

Authorities said one hotshot firefighting crew was headed to the wildfire along with a bulldozer, one water tender, three patrol units and six engines.

They said four air tankers and one helicopter also has been ordered along with an Incident Management Team that is scheduled to being arriving over the next few days.

The Arizona Department of Transportation has closed U.S. Route 89. The department said in a Twitter post that there is no estimated time to reopen the road.

The cause of the wildfire wasn’t immediately known.

June 12: Pipeline Fire near Flagstaff is forcing some evacuations

A wildfire reported about six miles north of Flagstaff was forcing some evacuations Sunday, authorities said.

Coconino National Forest officials said the Pipline Fire was reported at 10:15 a.m. on Sunday by a fire lookout and was only a few acres, but active on all sides and growing and producing a noticeable plume of smoke.

The cause of the wildfire wasn't immediately known.

Coconino County Sheriff’s officials said the Arizona Snowbowl and people living in the area of the west Schultz Pass Road area must evacuate.

Wind gusts were sweeping the smoke through Schultz Pass toward Doney Park and authorities said recreationists were being told to leave immediately, especially those in the Schultz Pass area.

Authorities said one hotshot firefighting crew was headed to the wildfire along with a bulldozer, one water tender, three patrol units and six engines.

They said four air tankers and one helicopter also has been ordered along with an Incident Management Team that is scheduled to being arriving over the next few days.

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Fronteras Desk senior editor Michel Marizco is an award-winning investigative reporter based in Flagstaff.