On Wednesday May 9th, Arizona State Representative Bob Thorpe toured the aftermath of the Tinder fire with Fire Chief Phil Paine. According to InciWeb, the fire was first reported on April 27, 2018 at 11:43 a.m.
The fire originated in the East Clear Creek drainage approximately 1 mile downstream from Forest Road 95 (which runs north-south), between Payson and Winslow, and is located approximately 1.5 miles northeast of C.C. Cragin (Blueridge) Reservoir. Due to high winds early in the fire’s development, the fire quickly grew from about 500 to over 8,000 acres, and currently exceeds 16,300 acres, with containment at about 79%.
As of May 10th, increasing temperatures and winds along with dropping relative humidity is once again threatening homes, with possible further evacuation orders pending.
The topography & fuels include: steep rocky canyons and cliffs with fire burning in grass and tree under-stories. The cause of the fire was an abandoned Illegal campfire, and the cost of the fire is approaching $7 million. The current resources are: 100 personnel including two crews, three helicopters, six engines, two dozers and other support personnel.
About 35 homes (almost 1/2 of which are primary residences) and 40 outbuildings were destroyed. USAA insurance quickly provided sprinklers and fire trucks for those home owners participating in their fire-wise program.
In addition to local and federal fire resources and Coconino County Sheriff’s law enforcement first responders, the Red Cross and Arizona DEMA had staff and resources at the scene providing assistance and meals to those displaced by the fire. Some of the problems faced by DEMA was how to identify whether homes were primary residences, how to contact the owners, and whether the buildings were insured and if so did the insurance cover debris removal.
Neither the State or Coconono County has the authority to remove debris from private property, so volunteer organizations like ‘Team Rubicon’ will hopefully help provide debris removal. There are no state funds available for homeowners, so they must rely on federal grants from FEMA that can reach a maximum of $33,900, but only average about $5,000 – $7,000 per claim. The losses were not high enough for the federal Small Business Administration to provide assistance.
Before being elected as a State Representative in 2012, Thorpe served over 8-years as a certified volunteer firefighter (structure and wildland) and EMT with Highlands Fire District.
Thorpe said, “The losses from Tinder fire are truly tragic. As a former firefighter, I don’t personally remember an Arizona wildfire where we lost so many homes and buildings so quickly. This was a tough, wind-driven fire that destroyed homes where the owners had done very good jobs reducing fuels around their homes, making their properties ‘fire-wise’. Wildfires can move incredibly fast, especially up the side of hills, and when the Tinder fire ran quickly up the steep sides of the deep canyons, it was a miracle that more homes were not lost, and that there were no deaths or serious injuries. We could have suffered a tragic loss of life, a repeat of Yarnell, all because an irresponsible person lit an illegal campfire, and chose not to properly extinguish it.”