Ballooning Arizona Wildfire Threatens Staples of Navajo Nation

When creating an evacuation plan with your family, make sure to include plans for your pets and livestock. Sending aloha to the Navajo ranchers whose livelihoods are at stake when large wildfires like this one push towards their community.

From the Source: 

"A fast-moving wildfire near the Arizona-New Mexico border grew Tuesday as it approached two communities and threatened traditional grazing lands on the Navajo Nation, where sheep are a staple of life, their wool is prized for its use in rugs, and mutton is on the menu of restaurants throughout the region.

The Assayii Lake Fire ballooned to more than 19 square miles in less than two days while making its way across winter and summer grazing lands in the Chuska Mountains.

The flames destroyed at least four structures and threatened about 50 homes near the rural communities of Naschitti and Sheep Springs, fire officials said.

Some homes in Naschitti were evacuated Monday afternoon, and authorities were urging desperate Navajo families to refrain from going into the mountains to search for their sheep and other livestock because of the fire's erratic behavior.

'They haven't contained any of it yet, and they're just letting it burn right now because the winds are so high, and that presents a problem," said Leo Watchman, head of the Navajo Nation's Department of Agriculture. "How far out do you evacuate homes and livestock pens? We're not out of the danger yet.'

The tribal agency has been busy rounding up trailers to move livestock from the area. But Watchman said it was too early to say what might have happened to the sheep and cattle that were on the mountain when the fire broke out.

Agriculture and livestock have been key in the evolution of Navajo society and economy. Tribal members have grazed sheep in the area for centuries, and livestock ownership is considered a symbol of resourcefulness and prosperity.

Fire managers said Tuesday they've closed roads in the area, but it has still been a challenge keeping people out given the value of livestock to the Navajos."

Above: "A plume of smoke in the Chuska Mountains near Naschitti, N.M. on June 15. Residents of a Navajo community near the New Mexico-Arizona border prepared for evacuations Monday as strong winds fanned the flames of a wildfire burning in the Chuska Mountains." Credit: Associated Press

Above: "A plume of smoke in the Chuska Mountains near Naschitti, N.M. on June 15. Residents of a Navajo community near the New Mexico-Arizona border prepared for evacuations Monday as strong winds fanned the flames of a wildfire burning in the Chuska Mountains." Credit: Associated Press