Residents forced out by the Tunnel Fire return home

Tunnel Fire aftermath
Catherine J Sowa - Tunnel Fire
Posted at 7:36 PM, Apr 24, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-25 08:14:09-04

FLAGSTAFF, AZ — After being forced out for days, residents living in the neighborhoods along Highway 89 were allowed back in. Many told ABC15 they were evacuated Tuesday when winds spread the flames of the Tunnel Fire.

"I'm good," said Violet Che. "It's good to go home."

Sunday after showing Coconino County officials their ID and information, residents received free supplies from the Red Cross and a piece of tape that allowed them access to the highway before it officially opened.

"31 homes is a lot, but it could have been much much worse," said Coconino County Sheriff Jim Driscoll.

The sheriff said the wind-driven fire moved extremely fast, giving residents just minutes to leave.

Saturday many upset community members questioned the initial fight at a community meeting.

"I certainly appreciate their frustration," said Sheriff Driscoll. "It's a difficult time, especially when you had to leave your home without the time to grab anything that might. sustain you or to leave our pets behind."

People with homes still standing were happy to finally come back, but for people like George Adson, the reunion was bittersweet.

"You have a little bit of survivor's guilt," said Adson. "Just the fact that our property is pretty good right now and you look right across up there, there's nothing there."

Some of Adson's neighbors along Brandis Way lost everything.

"It's unbelievable, you know?" said homeowner Shirley Ernst. "We still feel like we are in a dream, a bad dream."

Ernst still hasn't seen her property in person. ABC15 crews were able to FaceTime her, so she could get an up close look at what's left.

"All your efforts, all your sacrifices just there, you know, in ashed," said Ernst. "There's no word to describe the pain."

The fire fight is still not over, and crews are continuing to watch the winds as they work to contain more of the blaze.