13 summer camps destroyed so far in Assayii Lake fire

(Times photo - Donovan Quintero)

Small pockets of flames manage to break through the thick smoke Monday evening on the Chuska Mountains. According to the Southwest Area Incident Management Team 3, the human-caused Assayii Lake Fire has burned 12,105 acres, at zero percent containment.

By Alastair Lee Bitsoi
Navajo Times

NASCHITTI, N.M., June 17, 2014

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TOP VIDEO: Community members listen today to an update about the Asaayii Fire, which has now spread to more than 12,100 acres, prompting mass evacuations.

BOTTOM VIDEO: Scenes from the fire on Monday afternoon.

With the Assaayii Lake Fire burning over 12,000 acres as of Tuesday at noon, it has destroyed 13 summer sheep camp homes on its path down the Chooshgai Mountains from its original point at Bowl Canyon Recreation Area.

According to the Southwest Area Incident Management Team III, which is managing the human-caused wildfire, it remains zero percent contained as of today.

The information regarding the 13 homes being destroyed by the fire is according to a local Navajo Nation police officer, who conducted an assessment of the summer homes last night for the Naschitti community.

The homes were part of discussion among members of the Naschitti Alternative Local Emergency Response Team, Naschitti Chapter Officials, tribal police and New Mexico State Police this morning.

Elvina Yazzie, who herded her mother’s sheep down the summit of the mountain with her nephew Nelvin Yazzie, said that the fire was moving toward their residence Sunday. They live near what locals refer to as Black Springs, and, according to chapter officials this morning, their Yazzie homestead was ravaged by the fire.

Donations being accepted for fire victims, firefighters

By Terry Bowman
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK - According to Rose Whitehair, director at Navajo Nation Emergency Management, donations will accepted at the following locations: Crystal Chapter House, Naschitti Chapter House, Shiprock Chapter House, Fort Defiance Field House (Home Base), Tohatchi High School Gymnasium and Newcomb School.

Donations can include the following items: flour, potatoes, eggs, paperware (bowls, plates, utensils, cups) ziplock bags, disposable gloves, oil, salt, baking powder, dish towels, steel knives, pots, pans, napkins, coffee, Kool aide & ice tea mix, power bars, cold cuts, bread, soda, water, juice, pitchers for koolaid, canned food and boxes to store incoming food.

Officials are asking that those donating items refrain from too much sugar products and also to be aware of the expiration dates.

Donations should be taken to these locations until noted otherwise by the Navajo Nation Department of Emergency Management and the American Red Cross.

For any more information pleases contact the Navajo Nation Department of Emergency Management or the Red Cross Relief.

“We’re going to be losing everything and our memories will be gone,” Yazzie told the Navajo Times Monday evening. “It just hurts because our grandparents built that hogan.”

Yazzie added that when the fire was approaching, she could see nothing but black fumes moving toward them.

On her way down the mountain with Nelvin Yazzie and their flock of 28 sheep, Yazzie couldn’t see which way they were going and remembered how her grandfather would tell her, “Always head east.”

Yazzie also witnessed a bull herding cattle away from the fire, which she saw again halfway down the mountain grazing. She also saw two bears and cubs fleeing eastward away from the fire.

Her mother, Lorraine Yazzie, said that when they left her summer camp, she kept looking back at the fire and her home.

“I can see those ashes,” she said, while wiping away tears. “They were on my shirt. You can really smell it.”  

In addition to the Yazzie homestead, the homesteads of the following families have been destroyed: Emma Roanhorse, Carol Bitsoi, Darlene Bitsoi, Christine Bitsoi, and Maxine Yazzie, among others.

In their June 17 update, the Southwest Area Incident Management Team III reported that approximately 50 residences are threatened. The team, however, reported four structures being destroyed.

“Personnel continue to assess the damages at this time,” states the June 17 press release.

Currently, the fire has a total of 593 firefighters battling the blaze, with 23 crews, 15 engines, six helicopters and two dozers.

Firefighters fought the fire along 8093 Logging Road last night, which is also known by locals as Green Meadows Road.

“The fire activity died down about 1 a.m. and the fire held throughout the night,” reported the SWA Incident Management Team III.

Regarding the forecast for today, the incident management team said that extreme fire and high winds, with gusts up to 50 mph, continuing.

“Fire fighters will be assessing the western and eastern part of the fire today for opportunities to construct indirect line,” said the incident management team.

The firefighters will also be working on Route 134, with concentration efforts focused on building structure protection on the north side of the fire and looking at roads to access the southern end of the fire.

On Tuesday morning Lt. Calvin Begay, of the Navajo Nation Police, reported that all access roads up to the mountain have been closed off in an effort to keep people safe.

“If people are going to get up there, they will get up there,” he said, adding that tribal and state police will also help locals escort their livestock down into the Halgai area, or “flats” below the mountain.

Melvin Stevens, president of the Naschitti ALERT organization, reported to officials and community members that over 30 evacuees are stationed at shelters in Naschitti, Newcomb and Tohatchi. Local volunteers, chapter officials and the American Red Cross are organizing the shelters.

In Naschitti, Lula Liston, along with her husband and three daughters, stayed two nights at the Naschitti Senior Center, since being told by fire officials to evacuate Sunday. They live in Forest Lake, below where the Assayii Lake Fire is burning at Green Meadows.

“We just grabbed a few stuff and left,” Liston said. “That’s the only house we have. We don’t move to the mountains. We stay at the border line (the treeline).”

Meanwhile, community members like Isabelle Natonabah are wondering where to keep their livestock. She said there is no plan at the chapter level to help livestock owners find a location for their animals that were atop the mountain.

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