Covering the Critical Story – Schultz Fire, Flagstaff

Last Sunday was supposed to be one of my first actual days off in a while. I slept in until noon, thinking that nothing could bother me today.

I checked the usual: Phone, e-mail, etc. Reports had been coming in since 10:30 of a wildfire very close to the Flagstaff area. “Another one?” I thought. Flagstaff had an extremely close, 350 acre wildfire start the day before, called the Hardy Fire.

A long exposure of the Hardy Fire southeast of Flagstaff the night after it started.

A long exposure of the Hardy Fire southeast of Flagstaff the night after it started.

Using preliminary information from APSN, I wrote a blurb and posted it on NAZ Today’s website. Little did I know that this would just be the beginning.

FLAGSTAFF (NAZ Today) – Another fire in the Flagstaff area has sparked up in the Schultz Pass area, approximately six miles north of the Flagstaff downtown area.

Evacuations of the now 50-acre fire are beginning in Timberline, Wupatki Trail, and Fort Timberline neighborhoods with Wupatki Estates and Fernwood on standby. With 15-17 mph winds gusting to 30 mph, this fire is growing rapidly.

According to APSN, the fire is active on both sides of the forest service road 420, and four air tankers, as well as two helicopters have been requested to help extinguish the fire.

The Flagstaff Airport is now redirecting all air traffic so that air tankers can easily come into the area, according to APSN.

The "mushroom cloud" of smoke from the start of the Schultz Fire, early Sunday afternoon.

The "mushroom cloud" of smoke from the start of the Schultz Fire, early Sunday afternoon as seen from the NAU campus.


I got ready, and drove to the newsroom, where I met co-workers Jon and Angie to begin covering the fire. We gathered a camera kit and a police scanner. This is what we gathered four hours after receiving preliminary reports:

FLAGSTAFF (NAZ Today) – The Schultz Wildfire that started late Sunday morning near Schultz Pass has grown to over 500 acres in size, forcing residents of the Wupatki Trail and Timberline neighborhoods to evacuate their homes.

The fire is currently zero percent contained.

Resources from the Hardy Wildfire have been reallocated to the Schultz Pass Wildfire. U.S. Forest Service representative Joel Luttman said there are now hundreds of firefighters responding to the fire.

The Schultz Pass Wildfire is being driven by high winds gusting up to 30-40 m.p.h.

Other than wind, one main problem for firefighters is clearing travel paths for evacuees blocked by onlookers, and there have been reports of homeowners refusing to evacuate homes in immediate danger of the fire. All areas north of Campbell Ave. and west of Highway 89 have been issued evacuation orders.

Second Chance Center for Animals, located along the 89 near Campbell, was also evacuated this afternoon. Animals from the shelter are being evacuated to Fort Tuthill County Park, according to officials.

Any residents in need of fire information may call 1-888-679-8393. Firefighters remind citizens that the summer months create dry conditions and to always extinguish fires completely.

There is currently a press conference being held regarding the fires in the Flagstaff area.

NAZ Today is there and will bring you more updates as soon as possible.

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This was obviously no small deal. The Schultz Fire, named after its origin in Schultz Pass, had already grown larger than the Hardy Fire. All over Flagstaff, people were watching the mushroom cloud of smoke loom over the city. Phoenix TV media had already started staging near the fire along highway 89. My car was the third to pull in.

As the day progressed, we updated with information from a press conference held later that afternoon by city, county, and emergency response officials. We also posted pictures and video with sound bytes from a firefighter spokesperson.

Smoke rises from the Schultz fire, with Doney Park in the foreground. Taken several hours after the fire was first reported.

Smoke rises from the Schultz fire, with Doney Park in the foreground. Taken several hours after the fire was first reported.

Other colleagues came in and started helping with the reporting into the night. Monday morning, Flagstaff Mayor Sara Presler announced via Twitter that the Coconino National Forest would hold a public meeting that evening at Coconino High School. Immediately, the idea came to stream it live.

I spent my afternoon working with CHS faculty to test their Internet connectivity and scout the auditorium they were going to host the meeting in.

Faculty adviser Brandon, coworker Jon Cole (helped with first fire shoot), and me headed over to the school to start setting up. But, of course, problems came up that set us back tremendously.

First, the school’s new wireless system wouldn’t let us log in as a guest. That’s fine, because I tried a hardwire connection in a nearby classroom and it worked fine. (Better than fine, with upload and download speeds of 50 Mb/sec.) So I tried the hardwire, and it wouldn’t let us stream to NAZ Today’s video streaming server provided by NAU TV Services, presumably because of a port block.

I received wireless credentials from the IT representative at the meeting, and she said that no ports were blocked on WiFi. Perfect. I successfully start streaming 25 minutes until show, and I test the stream. “Player error?” This is one I couldn’t fix.

Connection issues aside, we had no apparent way to stream. Quick thinking brought up uStream. I registered an account and opened the broadcasting software. It’s now 5 minutes to show.

Unlike our normal streaming application, this Flash-based one didn’t recognize our video capture card as an audio source; the only one listed is the computer’s line input. The RCA cables plugged into it from the camera obviously won’t go into that 1/8″ headphone connector. The capture card has an RCA out, but I had no way to adapt it to the headphone jack. I look around the theater classroom I was set up in. Scattered throughout the room are 5-6 stereos, and connected to one of them was an RCA to headphone cable, probably for an MP3 player.

I plugged in the found cable, and bingo, we had audio and video. I find the object embed code to place on http://naztoday.com/watch, click “Broadcast,” and the show begins.

As the show begins, I create a new article on NAZToday.com for a live blog of the meeting and tweet about the fact that NAZ Today is streaming the meeting live online.

The meeting lasted two hours, and our peak number of viewers was 175. Pretty amazing, considering little PR was given to the fact that we were trying to stream the event.

Here’s the final product of that hectic night:

Watch the recorded Public Meeting:

Live Blog

8:55 – Over for the evening. Thanks to audience. Live-blog coverage and streaming by Kyle Anderson of NAZ Today.

8:54 – Question 29 – Danny Haniff from KOLT-FM – We’ve been clearing our information with the media office.

8:53 – Question 28 – Are there backup flight crews who can relieve the evening crews for the morning?

Answer: Realistically, there are relief pilots for mandatory days off, but there’s a limitation on how many tankers can be used.

8:52 – Question 27 – If it wasn’t for the other fires, the response would not have been quick. “We really dodged a bullet.” Thank you.

8:51 – Question 26 – What’s going on with our mail?

Answer: All of the affected areas are holding mail at the post office. You can go to the main post office on Postal drive. All of the mail for the affected neighborhoods can be collected there. You must provide picture ID to get mail.

8:50 – Question 25 – When the highway opens, can Fernwood residents return?

Answer: Fernwood has not been evacuated, so yes. You can go home.

8:47 – Questions 24 – (Technical Problems – Omitted)

8:46 – Question 23 – Electricity in Wupatki Trails was off. When will it be on?

Answer: APS says it is on, so they can follow up with a phone call.

8:43 – Question 22 – When will there be no wind?

Answer: Last night, air tankers flew until dark. If we fly them late in the day, we can’t use them early in the morning because of a 10-hour rest requirement.

Second Question: Would it be OK if citizens go into burned areas and collect wood cutting?

Answer: Firewood cutting can make a difference in small areas, but not large areas like the one covered by the Schultz Fire.

8:42 – Question 21 – The Hardy Fire is 50% contained. When do you expect full containment?

Answer: Those details aren’t available tonight, but if you call the city offices, they can have that for you.

Possibly 80% contained by Wednesday.

8:41 – Question 20 – If I see 89 open, does it mean I can get back in?

Answer: No.

8:40 – Question 19 – After this is said and done, are they going to replant the trees that were burnt?

Answer: After it has been controlled, there will be an assessment. Called “Burned Area Emergency Response.” It’ll focus on long-term rehabilitation, and trees is one of the focuses.

8:37 – Question 18 – Insurance denying claims because because of a “civilian authority” evacuation. Anything that can be done?

Answer: An emergency has been declared. We’ll provide copies of that declaration for insurance companies. There is a county declaration of emergency. There is also a FEMA declaration of emergency.

8:37 – Question 17 – Mountains are sacred to some, so thank you for saving them.

8:35 – Question 16 – Should employees of nearby non-evacuated businesses go to work?

Answer: Yes, it shouldn’t be a problem.

8:32 – Question 15 – Cars of fire onlookers have been crowding nearby neighborhoods to Silver Saddle and 89. What can be done about it? Cave Hill -There have been lots of people observing and lighting camp fires into the night.

Answer: Regarding fires, it’ll be illegal to have a campfire outside of a designated campground.

Answer to question about Transients: If they’re on forest service land, they’re camping. Within city limits, they’re camping illegally.

There will be an attempted traffic reroute at Silver Saddle and clear things up.

8:27 – Question 14 – What can we expect when we go back in terms of utilities? Travel up and down 89 – What can we expect tomorrow for travel to Fernwood? And is there any way we can keep “bums” from starting fires in the woods?

Answers: Utilites: They’re trying to get you back there. Going to be evaluating it tomorrow. Most of the power is back on according to APS. Gas probably hasn’t been shut off.

Roads: Everyone wants the road open, and the educational guess is that the road will be open tomorrow, but we can’t be sure. Strong probability.

Transients: (not addressed)

8:26 – Question 13 – Crying woman, saying that police blocked her from getting her pets from her house on the east side of 89.

Answer: Meet afterward to talk about getting to them.

8:24 – Question 12 – Any possbilitiy that the fire will cross into Doney Park?

Answer: Can’t say no possibility, the chances are no.

Second question: Basin was hottest part of the fire and it’ll burn for a long time. How long?

Answer: We’re still gathering data and info, but you’re looking at a couple of weeks. People who go back to their homes will have smoke in the evenings. Figure at least a couple of weeks.

8:21 – Question 11 – Dane Kennedy from KOLT-FM – Transmission lines are running from the backside to the broadcast towers on Mt. Elden. Status?

Answer: APS has been able to re-route power when power lines have fallen, so as of this time, they don’t see it as an issue. All comm for the Flagstaff area are based there, so it’s an important place to keep safe.

8:19 – Question 10 – What is the likihood that the fire is coming around the mountain into mountain communities?

Answer: The fire in Sugarloaf is not a controlled burn, it’s part of the fire. They’re trying to get ahead of it. Trying to keep it out of the inner-basin.

Everyone that lives in northern Arizona should have a plan. Know where your valuables are at all times.

8:18 – Question 9 – Alternate travel routes to Cameron, especially for those who are walking?

Answer: Through the Grand Canyon or the 505.

8:15 – Question 8 – Highway 89 – Asker commutes to Tuba City – What’s a good source of info for when 89 is open?

Answer: Ch. 4 could possibly be that source. Continue to call the 1-888 number. We can probably give some other sources after the meeting. Listen to the radio, use the www.coconino.az.gov website, which is updating constantly. Personal updates are being set up via e-mail and Twitter, as of today. Personal calls will also be made if needed.

8:13 – Question 7 – PetAlert.com – Presenting this as a tips website for people who don’t know what to do with pets who are being evacuated because “we’re going to be with this for a while.”

8:11 – Question 6 – Question for Sheriff – Are there patrol units in the communities that have been evacuated?

Answer: There are some units in the area. They’ve pulled officers from the entire county. You’ll see standing roadblocks. Detention officers have been pulled and put in the field because the last thing they want is for your home to be burglarized.

8:10 – Question 5 – Brandis Fire needs firefighters on scene.

Answer: We have been saving homes out there.

8:08 – Question 4 – What do the firefighters need from the community? What can the community do?

Answer: “That is really sweet.” Continued support, patience, a lot of good thoughts. Staying hopeful and remaining positive. If you know someone who needs something and they’ve been evacuated, give them a helping hand. We can live up to our name of being a tight-knit community.

Salvation Army is taking donations.

8:05 – Question 3 – Fox and other news sources have been saying that Timberline houses might burn down. Is that true?

(laughs from audience) Answer: Odds of losing houses is much better than 50/50 chances. They have no control over that report. Thanks to local responders for that.

Reporters are going to speculate, and they said something that could have come true.

8:02 – Question 2 – What are the chances of the fire moving back over Mt. Elden?

Answer: There is a possibility that it will move into that area. It’s not moving fast. The troubles are how “heavy” the fire is. Movement is minimal. Computer prediction is that it will run hard to the north. Once the fire is “tied back” to Schultz Pass, the city will be very safee. Fire will be secure by Wednesday.

8:01 – Question 1 – Why are we now having campfire restrictions?

Answer: Restrictions are placed according to measures, such as moisture (current was 60%, restriction level is 90%, did bump into the 80s%)

QUESTION AND ANSWER

7:59 – Cause of the fire was an abandoned camp fire. If you see anyone being irresponsible with fire, call: 928-527-3600

InciWeb.org – Will be better updated with pictures, maps, and feeds for the public.

7:59 – Sheriff: Contacted NAU to see if they can use Ch. 4 on NPG cable for this and other emergencies.

7:58 – (MC) Toll free number is: 1-888-679-8393

7:54 – Heather Provencio, Coconino National Forest

“It takes a community working together to solve a problem this difficult.”

Provencio sympathizes with those who are evacuated, and gives word to them that they will be protecting their property as best as they can.

Camping and smoking restrictions are beginning Wednesday (cheers and applause.)

Tonto and Coconino forests are going into restrictions.

Normal restrictions happen when highs hit the 90s.

7:48 – Don Howard, Summit Fire Chief

(Lots of cheers and applause)

Thanking citizens for support. “This is an emotional event for all of us.” Had opportunities to go to crowds like this one, stay for 2 weeks, and go home. But this time, it personally affects where he lives.

The mountain will look very different than it does today.

This is a fire that we talked about for literally 30 years. This fire behavior is some of the most extreme that we’ve ever seen. Years of training and commitment is what makes the firefighters as great as they are.

Still no losses of any structures. No significant injuries yesterday either.

Wildfire community is a wonderful one, according to Howard. Sees people of all races, genders, backgrounds, and they all come together to solve the issue. The wildland fire community promotes togetherness at a ” very high level.”

Fire crews are going to be here for a two week period to make sure no one loses their homes and the peaks remain beautiful.

Thanks for support over the years.

7:42 – Flagstaff Mayor Sara Presler

The Hardy Fire continues to put the city in a state of emergency. City has been operating since Saturday – now at about 50% with a “very secure” perimeter with no structure loss.

FUSD “deserves our respect and gratitude” for housing, shelter, and hosting tonight’s meeting.

“We’ve handled more calls about pigs chickens and horses…” “We honor that you have animals that are part of your family.”

Thanking Red Cross, Salvation Army, and N.A. United Way (?)

Asking evacuees to register.

“Life can be pretty tough, and we can’t always control the circumstances that are brought upon us in life. … Here we are in a situation where we’re not necessarily able to control what’s been happening to us, but we can control how we respond. I am undeniably proud to be a part of this community, and I thank you for your bravery and your support.”

“I’m so proud of your community, and I’m so proud of you.”

7:39 – Sheriff Pribil –

Nowhere east of 89 has been evacuated, and they hope that doesn’t have to happen.

The main goal is to get everyone back home as soon as possible.

1,044 was original estimate for home evacs — 756 parcels have been actually evacuated.

Wal-Mart and the Flagstaff Mall are accepting trailers.

3,000 calls in the last 2 days have been received by the Sheriff’s office.

7:37 – Sheriff Bill Pribil

Without everyone’s help, they couldn’t have done what they were sent out to do: “Keep you out of your houses.”

Lots of conflicting information. Example: 89 was opening. It was open for 5 minutes, but then it was closed again.

If you have an issue with getting something from your residence, contact the sheriff’s office and they will help you as best as possible.

Those wondering why you have been evacuated, especially those not seeing smoke, it’s because they’re airing on the side of caution.

7:34 – Mandy Mitzker (sp?), Vice Chairman (?)

“This is always what we talked about would happen. The community’s partnerships are our strength.”

Every entity one could think of in Flagstaff are in the emergency center helping. Clubs, non-profits, volunteers, etc. have been amazing, according to Mitzker.

“There is strength in this community, and boy, is it there.”

7:31 – “Rest assured, you have some good people looking out for you,” said Archuleta.

Emergency operation center is open with people there throughout the day. Archuleta has been personally sending out e-mails to people who want updates.

Mentioning Ready Coconino emergency response center (link here)

Red Cross is asking all evacuees to register so they can know where you are in case someone is looking for you.

Toll free number has been set up: 1-888-679-8393

County’s number one priority is you and getting you back in your homes, Archuleta.

7:27 – Liz Archuleta, Coconino County Supervisor –

“I’m sorry. You deserve the best of the best.” On rumors: Our objective is to get questions answered at this meeting and let you know where you can go for information. “We want you to feel at ease.”

Just returned from looking at the fire – Archuleta thought it was scary that there was a lot of smoke going near houses that she knew and recognized.

Firefighters and law enforcement that are there are working “tirelessly,” according to Archuleta. “They have this conviction beyond belief.”

7:26 – It’s extraordinary to see a fire reach 10,400 ft. where there is still snow.

“This fire’s going to be with us for a long time.” The mountains haven’t seen fire like this in decades or centuries. Estimated time for containing the fire entirely can range from days to weeks.

7:24 – “When you get to you home, it might look like some landscaping work was done.” Fighters removed anything flammable away from houses.

7:22 PM – A dozer line will be made along the base of the mountains south of the fire. Tonight, a fixed wing will fly over the fire with infrared to show the perimiter and how the fire is moving.

Highway 89 is closed again tonight. Fire is moving to the north. 89 will be opened back up. Tomorrow evening, returning to homes will be discussed.

7:18 PM – No homes lost so far. Air tankers had to be shut down because of the wind, also today. Smaller heli’s were also grounded due to wind. Some houses are being lost in CO; some tankers were sent there, but resources here are still plenty. Helicopters are dropping retardant.

7:16 PM – Duggar (sp?) says type 1 took over at 6am this morning. Gives praise for a “fantastic job” by local crews yesterday.

7:12 PM – Schultz fire now number 1 priority nationally, best firefighters in the nation.

After the meeting, I conducted three interviews: One with fire evacuees, one with attendees who weren’t evacuated, and the Coconino County Sheriff. Jon photoged, and Brandon took pictures of us.

After that night, I helped with general updates, but other coworkers took care of most of the work. I stepped in Sunday because the main people for covering news for NAZ Today during the summer, Brandon and Patrick Walker, were out of town. But I’m glad I stepped in – It was extremely exciting, the kind of thing I live for.

About The Author

Kyle Anderson
I'm a media and IT professional and JavaScript developer who worked most recently as an Associate Broadcast IT Engineer (Tier II) for CNN in Atlanta. One of my life-long goals is to help bridge data divides - missing connections between software systems and data stores - promoting inter-system communication and automation. Many of the projects described here reflect this goal in some way or another.