Evacuees describe devastation from Tunnel Fire as 'warzone'

Posted at 10:17 PM, Apr 21, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-22 08:52:13-04

FLAGSTAFF — ABC15 has been on the ground since Tuesday when the Tunnel Fire was just burning a couple hundred acres and has now grown to more than 20,000 acres.

As the fire spreads, the devastation grows with it. Those who are fleeing are calling it an inferno.

Wayne Johnson tells us what he saw when he drove down Highway 89 to see his home.

“Well it looks like a warzone,” he added.

Johnson says he and his wife got out of the fire zone just in the nick of time.

“We left when the big wall of fire came down the road.”

Though this isn’t the first time they’ve fled from an inferno.

“Actually we had a house fire at our house in Tucson 20 years ago. So it’s like reliving that situation again,” said Johnson, adding it all feels like a bad dream.

“Because that’s what it is. Reliving a situation that we had gone through before,” he told ABC15.

Now they’re worried about their pets that stayed behind.

“I have six pets sitting there waiting for us to come back. Also ten chickens so…”

While they’re wishing for the best, they’re certainly preparing for the worst.

“Just hoping that the house would stay together. That the neighbor’s place would still be okay,” said Johnson.

Though their neighbors’ homes were unfortunately consumed by the flames.

“These are good people. They had no reason for them to lose their house,” he told ABC15.

Wayne says at this point, he just hopes their house will still be standing when they come back.

“It’s just somewhere where you want to be able to come back to safely…you know…so that’s…its…it’s just frustrating,” Johnson said in tears.

Johnson isn’t the only one struggling to get some sleep, since the Tunnel Fire started.

RELATED: Arizona governor declares state of emergency to help efforts in Tunnel Fire

It's been several sleepless nights for worried homeowners near the fire.

Officials say one change in wind conditions could lead to even more destruction.

People driving down Highway 89 tell ABC15 they have seen hotspots and pockets of smoke, and walked out to poor air quality, as they got closer to the fire line.

Rick Lindsey is one of them.

“It’s just horrible man,” he added. “I started hearing all the propane tanks exploding and then you see a big black cloud and then you just wonder if it’s one of your friends’ houses,” said Lindsey.

He says as the day went on, fire conditions only got worse.

“Last all the cinder-hills were burning and they were crowning the trees. The clouds were roiling. It was pretty, pretty intense.”

As the Tunnel Fire rages on, Linsey’s hopeful firefighting efforts will help contain the fire soon, but knows the aggressive winds are only making it more difficult to put out the flames. Which is why he didn't spend the night at home.

“Just because it was night you know and I wasn't going to stick around there and not sleep, so that’s why I left,” added Linsdey.

James and Karla Freeman say Thursday was the first time in more than 48 hours they’d seen their home.

This comes after they were evacuated on Tuesday.

The couple say they are thankful the flames haven’t consumed their home…yet.

Though they say there are some hotspots and fear the wind may change direction, making those flames circle back to their area.

In the meantime, they went back to feed to check on their pets.

“We were going to go in, getting medication and feed our chickens and ducks and such. And we were also going to help evacuate a couple of large 200-pound pigs, but we were told no. They don't have the time and man power to evacuate the pigs,” said James.

“I looks like it jumped. I don't know maybe embers or whatever but it looks a little bit scattered when I'm seeing what's burned,” added Karla.

They let us know their friend, the owner of the pigs, was able to get a few little ones out and hopes to go back to get the larger pigs out by the end of the day.