Assayii Lake Fire: Over but Ongoing
After burning nearly 15,000 acres in the Chuska Mountains on the Navajo Reservation, the Assayii Lake wildfire is “over.” This land on the NM-AZ border and 60 miles northeast of Window Rock is the home and livelihood of the people who live there. Navajo Nation officials called this “one of the worst wildfires in known history on their land” affecting traditional grazing lands and threatening generational homes.
As of June 18, the Assayii Lake fire was 0% contained and winds were gusting 50 mph. On the Navajo Reservation:
- 50 residences were threatened and two tribal communities were being evacuated: Sheep Springs and Naschitti, NM
- 4 Navajo Nation structures were destroyed
- Newcomb, Tohatchi and Crystal Lake communities were also being affected
- The American Red Cross and the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) were cooperating on the incident, and nearly 700 personnel were working to bring the fire under control.
- Command Posts were being set up at the Newcomb and Shiprock Chapter Houses, the Newcomb Middle School, and the Tohatchi High School for displaced and affected persons
As a first responder for the reservations, NRC was working through numerous Program Partners and community leaders, who were in turn working with evacuees and displaced families as well as volunteers and firefighters. A semi and two box trucks departed National Relief Charities in Phoenix on June 19 to deliver products for those in need. These shipments went to the Navajo Nation at their central location in Fort Defiance, AZ (near Window Rock). We also transported supplies and provisions to the Crystal Chapter as well as the Gallup Humane Society.
These supplies included about $400,000 worth of basic necessities requested by our Program Partners such as boxes of non-perishable food; water and beverages; emergency blankets; toilet paper and paper towels; personal hygiene products such as toothpaste, toothbrushes and lotions; cleaning supplies; face masks; and surgical gloves. We wish to acknowledge our partners here:
- Rose Whitehair, Navajo Nation Dept. of Emergency Management
- David Randolph, Newcomb Chapter President
- Jacey McCurtain, President of the Crystal Chapter
- John Brooks at Tohatchi High School and Lucinda Barney at the Tohatchi Chapter
- Tony Watchman at Ft. Defiance Chapter
- Terry Begay at Shiprock Chapter
As of June 30, 2014, the Assayii Lake fire was 100% contained and the BIA was ensuring that all the embers were “dead out” and posing no risk to life, land or livestock. We are grateful for this, but we also have to acknowledge that in some ways the fire is ongoing. As with any wildfire or disaster, public attention seems to wane once the immediate threat has passed – but the aftermath and the work of recovery continue for weeks and sometimes months. And so our hearts go out to these communities, their leaders, and our partners who work so tirelessly to care for the people.