Disaster Discourse: The Hagerty Blog

Multiple wildfires spread across western states, resulting in evacuation orders and destruction of property

MONDAY, APRIL 25, 2022 AS OF 1:30 PM EST

Over the past week, the western half of the United States (US) has experienced severe weather. 

Wind-driven wildfires were reported in 14 counties across western and central Nebraska beginning on Friday, April 22nd. The Nebraska Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) State Emergency Operations Center (EOC) has been activated in order to coordinate a statewide response. Fires have reportedly destroyed 130,000 acres, although state officials have yet to disclose the official total burned area amounts or number of structures destroyed. The wildfires have claimed the life of one retired fire chief who was working as a spotter in Red Willow County when smoke and dust led to poor visibility, forcing his vehicle off the road; at least 15 firefighters have sustained injuries. On April 23rd the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Region VII approved the state’s request for a Fire Management Assistance Grant (FMAG) to provide emergency financial support for costs incurred by the State, according to NEMA. While as of April 24th all evacuation orders had been lifted and most fires had been extinguished or contained as of that afternoon, a Fire Weather Watch remains in effect for several areas across the state with an expected expiration of Tuesday, April 26 at 8:00pm CST.

Twitter: Nebraska Forest Service

Warm weather, high winds, and low humidity are also continuing to fuel a half-dozen wildfires across Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado. The Tunnel Fire located approximately 14 miles northeast of Flagstaff, Arizona along US Highway 89 was reported on Sunday, April 17 and is currently 15 percent contained. The original cause of the fire is not currently known, and strong winds, including gusts of up to 50 miles per hour (mph), led to rapid expansion of the blaze forcing nearby residents to scramble to evacuate. An estimated 700 homes fell under evacuation orders, and according to Coconino County officials 766 homes and 1,000 animals were evacuated. What began as a small blaze, quickly grew to reach across nearly 21,100 acres. Erratic winds are also now creating additional difficulties with containing the fire as air resources were grounded. According to the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) this year has already had above average fire activity. 

Due to the growing Tunnel Fire, following the Sheriff’s Office announcement of the evacuation of several neighborhoods on Tuesday, April 19, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey declared a state of emergency in Coconino County to assist first responders in their efforts to bring residents to safety on Thursday, April 21. This directed $200,000 in emergency funds to the response effort and ensures the Arizona Division of Emergency Management (DEMA) can coordinate across the state. The Coconino County Board of Supervisors held a community meeting on Saturday, April 23, to provide updates to residents and ensure a whole community response to this event. Despite high winds on Saturday evening, the fire was weakened by humidity in the region, allowing firefighters to assess fire containment efforts. As of Sunday morning, evacuation orders changed from “go” to “set” (Ready, Set, Go), indicating that the community should be ready to mobilize when needed but are not being asked to evacuate presently.

Twitter: Northwest Interagency Coordination Center

North of the Tunnel Fire, Denver and Boulder, Colorado were put under a Red Flag warning on Friday, April 22, to alert residents of extreme fire weather conditions. These include “very warm, dry, and windy weather (that) will make any new wildfire extremely difficult, if not impossible, to control,” according to the National Oceanic Atmospheric Association (NOAA) National Weather Service (NWS) in Boulder. Despite snow in the forecast for parts of northwestern Colorado, the north and northeastern parts of the state will remain under warning until an upper level system brings rain on Sunday. In the meantime, residents of Denver, Boulder, and Larimer County are encouraged to sign up for the Larimer Emergency Telephone Authority’s Emergency Alerts to learn more about potential evacuations or fire conditions.

Twitter: Ready.gov

FEMA urges individuals to plan ahead for wildfire events that can strike a community on short notice and spread quickly. FEMA encourages individuals to stay on top of the latest alerts in their area, including monitoring of the NOAA NWS “Red Flag Warnings,” which indicate when critical fire weather conditions are occurring or will occur shortly; and taking advantage of real-time alerts available via the FEMA Mobile App and other local and national communication systems. It is also critical that households dedicate time together well in advance of a wildfire to create a wildfire action plan; inclusive of emergency meeting locations and evacuation routes, a communication plan, and an emergency supply kit. FEMA implores individuals to heed the warnings of local authorities and immediately adhere to evacuation orders in order to stay safe during a wildfire.

The Hagerty Blog Team will continue providing information and updates on current events and disasters impacting the nation. Visit Disaster Discourse for the latest information.

RELATED STORIES

  • Remember, Ready.gov provides information on how to prepare for Wildfire and how to keep you and your family safe.
  • FEMA’s America’s PrepareAthon: How to Prepare for a Wildfire
  • The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) provides wildfire preparedness tips: link
  • Marin County provides a wildfire evacuation checklist: link
  • FEMA provides an information video about how to be prepared for wildfires: link