Congregation Lev Shalom is only a few miles south of Mount Elden, where the Museum Fire is burning nearly 2,000 acres of forest.
The congregation’s rabbi, Mindie Snyder, said that the fire could be easily seen from Lev Shalom.
“It was unnerving for the city as a whole because you can’t miss the smoke and the air quality has changed,” Snyder said. “My congregation has an evacuation plan if, God forbid, it was full when the fire came close. But we’re all connected to Flagstaff and to each other in terms of what we do to help each other or what we’re doing to get out of here if we need to.”
The fire — which is almost within a mile of the Flagstaff city limits — was 82% contained as of Tuesday, July 30, according to Coconino National Forest officials via Inciweb, an online information incident management system. That’s a significant jump from the previous report, released Sunday, which stated the fire was 62% contained. More than 600 fire personnel have been deployed to fight the blaze.
The cause of the fire is still under investigation.
Fire officials have warned the public to use “extreme caution” when traveling on Highways 180 and 89 north of Flagstaff. Snyder said that if an evacuation were to happen, both of those highways would quickly grow crowded.
Since containment has increased, efforts to repair areas damaged by the fire have become a priority.
Mount Elden Estates is the only remaining area in “Set” status, as in “Ready, Set, Go,” the system adopted by Arizona county sheriffs for notifying residents when it’s time to evacuate an area because of wildfires.
Snyder said that many neighborhoods had previously been in “Set.” Some homes north of Flagstaff were already evacuated.
Chabad of Flagstaff’s Rabbi Dovie Shapiro said that the fire did not affect their staff or their building.
“It was a very stressful week, but we’re all OK,” Shapiro said. “There were a few of our members who had to evacuate because of where they were, but luckily they’ve now returned home and everyone is fine.”
Shapiro was happy the fire was being contained and was grateful that it didn’t reach Flagstaff. The fire has not affected the construction of Chabad’s upcoming Molly Blank Jewish Community Center.
Snyder added that the Museum Fire reminded many Flagstaff natives of the 2010 Schultz Fire that burned 15,000 acres. Officials suspect that the cause of that fire was unattended campfire.
“When I first moved here, people showed me where the fire had burned the most,” Snyder said. “So you can see the scorched earth and obviously everybody was praying that it would never happen again.”
Snyder has experience in crisis responses to fires. She worked for a time for the Pima County Community Emergency Response Team. During her employment there the Aspen Fire occurred on Mount Lemmon. That fire burned more than 80,000 acres.
However, while the Museum Fire was considerably smaller, it seemed too close for comfort.
“In Tucson we could see the fire, but it felt farther away and we got the sense that it would stay in the area of Mount Lemmon once the firefighters got there,” Snyder said. “But here it was right on top of us, and I can tell you that a fire can change drastically in just a few minutes.”
Snyder was grateful that the firefighters were working so diligently to contain the fire and hopes that the displaced wildlife will be able to find new areas to feed.
Shapiro said that now that the worst of the fire seemed to be over there were concerns about rain and floods. With the decreased vegetation after a fire and the increase in debris and ash, a flood becomes more hazardous.
“We’re praying for good rain,” Shapiro said. “We don’t want too much in case of a flood, but we’re hoping for some rain soon to help put out the rest of the fire.” JN