Native Sun News: Crews nearly contain blaze on Navajo Nation

The following story was written and reported by Kate Saltzstein, Native Sun News Correspondent. All content © Native Sun News.

Crews battled the Assayii Lake Fire on the Navajo Nation. The fire is 90 percent contained as of June 25, 2014, according to the Southwest Area Incident Management Team 3. Photo from Facebook

Fires destroy 40 structures on Navajo Nation
By Kate Saltzstein
Native Sun News Correspondent

NAVAJO NATION –– A wildfire on the Navajo reservation has caused the evacuation of five homes, and is threatening the destruction of 40 structures near the communities of Naschitti and Sheep Springs in the Chuska Mountains on the Arizona/New Mexico border.

Winds of up to 65 miles an hour fanned the flames this week which burned pinon, juniper and pine trees. So far, 13,448 acres have burned, said Donna Storch Public Information Officer for the Assayii Lake Fire.

Storch said that she did not know how many people have evacuated their homes.

“Some left on their own. Shelters set up in chapter houses are not crowded,” she said. “Beds have been provided by the Navajo Nation as well as food. And, there have been a lot of donations of food and anything you can think of from the community and from Farmington. Five organizations have contributed. It’s well supported. We’re trying to get everything to the people.”

So far, no one has died or been injured in the fires but they are causing hardship for Navajos who graze livestock in the area. People have been warned not to go into the mountains to look for their sheep, cattle and dogs. Grazing areas have burned.

“People are very concerned about their animals and not having access. Reports from firefights in the area say that they see horses, cows, sheep and dogs guarding the animals,” she said.

Firefighters from the Navajo Nation and from towns in Arizona and New Mexico have been on the ground and in the air from planes fighting the fire, said Storch. They have dropped fire retardant and built fire breaks.

“Fire crews have been going into the area since the first day of the fires. The first few days the winds was so high, air operations were not up. But now there are a lot of air operations. The winds are less.”

By the end of the week the fire was about 5 percent contained, with winds less than ten miles per hour, she said. “Some areas were low intensity burn, others high intensity.”

Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly and New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez visited the reservation, flying over the area and going to several evacuation sites, she said.

“Safety of the people living in the area and the firefighters is our main concern. And, it’s important to us to protect anything culturally significant.” Two people from the Navajo Housing Department have made 3-D images of the fires and posted them on Facebook, she added.

Rick Hartigan, public information officer for a management team with representatives from the Navajo Nation, state and federal governments, attended meetings with Shelly and Martinez. They went to a school and to a chapter house and pledged their support.

Several sacred sites and herbs used in ceremonies have been destroyed or are threatened, according to a resident who spoke on local television news.

(Kate Saltzstein can be reached at:

Copyright permission Native Sun News

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