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Relief on the horizon as crews battle Navajo fire

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - As summer approaches, relief is in sight for drought-stricken New Mexico and many other parts of the West as Mother Nature appears ready to ease up on her back-to-back blows of stifling heat and gusty winds.

A break in the unfavorable weather can't come soon enough for the hundreds of firefighters battling a blaze on the Navajo Nation that has consumed more than 20 square miles of pinon and juniper forest along with grazing lands that tribal livestock owners have used for centuries.

The Assayii Lake Fire has destroyed at least four structures. Another 50 homes near the rural communities of Naschitti and Sheep Springs were threatened, with some in Naschitti evacuated.

Forecasters with the National Weather Service said storms moving across the Southwest have helped raise humidity levels, and the winds are expected to die down by Thursday, giving firefighters the window needed to directly attack the flames.

"What we saw over the past three or four days will basically end tomorrow. No more wind," meteorologist Chuck Maxwell said Wednesday.

Despite the variability in the weather and drought, the fire season has been relatively slow across the U.S., according to the National Interagency Fire Center in Idaho. The number of acres burned so far this year is half of the 10-year average, and there have been fewer large fires. In the Southwest, the acreage burned is only 46 percent of average.

"The reason the Southwest is below average is because it had a late start to its fire season," said Robyn Broyles with the interagency fire center. "There was a lot of moisture throughout the spring for both New Mexico and Arizona. They're actually having a less severe fire season."

There are nine large fires burning across the country, including the blaze on the Navajo Nation.

New Mexico, including a large swath of the Navajo Nation, is in its fourth year of severe drought and the risk of fire has been high. So the blaze is only making matters worse for families who are watching from afar as their summer and winter grazing pastures are charred.

Tribal agriculture officials said that depending on the intensity of the Assayii Lake Fire, it could be many months before sheepherders and cattle ranchers get to return to the hills outside Naschitti and Sheep Springs. Officials say they will search for other areas on the sprawling reservation where livestock can graze.

Authorities have repeatedly urged Navajo families to refrain from heading into the mountains to search for their livestock.

"They really do value the life of their livestock more than they value their own," fire spokeswoman Shari Malone said. "It's been difficult."

On Wednesday, planes dropped fire retardant on the southern part of the blaze, while crews began building a line along the western and northern flanks. They were also trying to protect a communication tower to the north.

Elsewhere, diminishing winds have helped firefighters nearly contain a blaze burning near Lake Isabella in California's southern Sierra Nevada. The blaze was 90 percent contained Wednesday morning, with no flames jumping the perimeter.

In northern Arizona, a 7-acre wildfire that broke out in Oak Creek Canyon was contained. The fire was just north of a blaze that charred 31 square miles last month in the scenic canyon between Sedona and Flagstaff.

Related Slideshow:

San Diego Wildfire

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jamaldolph June 18 2014 at 8:55 PM

The Navajo Nation knows first hand how well the government will look after their interests!

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3 replies
stengernc June 18 2014 at 7:06 PM

Humans have moved into areas that mother nature will devastate. Human have over populated the earth, caused destruction, wars and poverty all the while praising God....no God gives blessing to such destructive people. Evolution will record an interesting species that had so much potential but blew it. We may not survive another century.

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10 replies
wilsonslane1 June 18 2014 at 6:57 PM

So, why are we showing a slide shoe about a fire in San diego when the fire is in New Mexico? It's a "theme" show i guess.

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rayderdude1 June 18 2014 at 11:41 PM

i think aol hires 6th graders

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1 reply
Walt rayderdude1 June 19 2014 at 11:50 AM


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ChingOW Mango June 19 2014 at 12:37 AM

God bless the Navajos! I hope they manage to save their animals.

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1 reply
ebicious ChingOW Mango June 19 2014 at 8:03 AM

They don't "save" their animals when there's NO fires. Drive through the res and you'll see how badly they are treated. Should be illegal to have any animals on the res.

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1 reply
Kate ebicious June 19 2014 at 12:26 PM

They are very poor, among the poorest people in the country, and those animals are both their livelihood and their food source. They are not mistreated, they are simply thin because of sparse grazing.

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parotnogin June 18 2014 at 8:44 PM

Just curious, what idiot wrote the line in the tease about fire season winding down?

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Velocity105 June 19 2014 at 2:59 AM

Too bad. That's what you get for whining and complaining about the Washington Redskins.

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1 reply
rothhammer1 Velocity105 June 19 2014 at 3:46 AM

You are an idiot.

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tonden123 June 18 2014 at 9:08 PM


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1 reply
gramargo tonden123 June 19 2014 at 2:04 AM

The people in these areas happen to have brown skin and are very proud of their history and their culture.

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tonden123 June 19 2014 at 2:18 AM

47 teepees burned down too

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3 replies
Aunti Occupy June 19 2014 at 9:26 AM


If ranches are prevented from returning to homes how can they care their stock, make repairs and pay their taxes? I think Obama ordered that these fires be started, its part of his scorched earth policy of the USA.

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