Relief on the horizon as crews battle Navajo fire

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Relief on the horizon as crews battle Navajo fire
This image provided by Inci Web shows a plume of smoke in the Chuska Mountains near Naschitti, N.M. on Sunday, June 15, 2014. 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. Fire officials were conducting reconnaissance missions to get a better handle on the fire's size, but Navajo Nation officials said more than 3 square miles have been charred since the fire was first reported Friday. (AP Photo/Inciweb)
Support Navajo as they battle the Asaayi wildfire https://t.co/DxwvZFA1wQ Update: DAY 6 http://t.co/17zAF6qSwj http://t.co/ZwkXJNomRT
Heat, wind hamper efforts to corral Navajo fire http://t.co/iND032Ct2P | http://t.co/FlNR6WJUGT
Fire on Navajo Nation Grounds Near New Mexico-Arizona Border Grows Rapidly http://t.co/ikdIb6pcx9 #NationalNews http://t.co/56xEkk0kPm
#AssayiiLakeFire update: Crews battling Navajo fire brace for more wind http://t.co/1ZVDs6mvcB #abc15 http://t.co/YMSrtFSC5A
Assayi Fire: Navajo Nation declares state of emergency | http://t.co/FexgxjXIx5 #NMFire http://t.co/a7BbyLEJ4P
Our thoughts and prayers go to the Navajo Nation and the beautiful burning Chuska Mountains. http://t.co/6dJAOsGRhP http://t.co/GVFOq7JNcT
Folks in Naschitti on the Navajo Nation north of Gallup preparing to evacuate. Assayii Fire burns 11,000 acres. @KOB4 http://t.co/SFtfTVJf8O
Pray for Navajo Nation as they fight a fierce fire http://t.co/EnO3O1XRvU
Current fire data from the USFS shows extent of Aasayi Fire back home in Dinetah. Be careful all my Navajo Peeps. http://t.co/GMihfBUbfy
Smoke from the Lake Asááyi fire on the #Navajo nation. So far over 2,000 acres have been burned. http://t.co/UuFuTHM0XN
BREAKING: #Navajo Nation Schools Evacuated. #Fire Storm rips through Chuska Mountain. http://t.co/DkfnXgJ8Qe http://t.co/fQpMvmXNsk
Google Earth image of Navajo Nation, Asaayi Lake fire perimeters from June 14 and today. #nmfire http://t.co/D9kaNyVKhY
@12News terrible fire on Navajo Nation, high winds too. :( http://t.co/wB78eWQOev
Heartbreaking... 😢... #fire #chuskamountains #memories #sad #wildfire #Navajo #rez http://t.co/U1uXtAiPjW
Forest fire near Navajo its moving fast. http://t.co/AgchV5cAzl
Fire on the Navajo Nation NW of Tohatchi in the Chuska Mountains. Courtesy David McLaughlin Sr. #nmwx #nmfire http://t.co/iHwXhSakmF
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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.

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Relief on the horizon as crews battle Navajo fire
SAN CLEMENTE, CA - MAY 16: People on Trestles beach watch Erickson air crane firefighting helicopters suck water from a lagoon to fight the Talega Fire on nearby Camp Pendleton as a surfer arrives to Tressles beach on May 16, 2014 near San Clemente, California. The Talega Fire, which began this morning, is one of three large wildfires on Camp Pendleton that have scorched more than 22,000 acres. Firefighters have been battling 11 wildfires in San Diego County this week, including the fires on the Marine base. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
Smoke plumes rise behind the Marine Corps Camp Pendleton entrance Friday, May 16, 2014, in Oceanside, Calif. San Diego County officials said Friday five wildfires have been 100 percent contained. Still, crews were focusing efforts on two large fires — one in the city of San Marcos and two blazes at the Marine Corps' Camp Pendleton. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
Marines move military vehicles near the entrance to Marine Corps Camp Pendleton in front of smoke plumes from the Las Pulgas wildfire burning on base Friday, May 16, 2014, in Oceanside, Calif. San Diego County officials said Friday five wildfires have been 100 percent contained. Still, crews were focusing efforts on two large fires — one in the city of San Marcos and two blazes at the Marine Corps' Camp Pendleton. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
Cars leave the Marine Corps Camp Pendleton base during a partial evacuation due to wildfires Friday, May 16, 2014, in Oceanside, Calif. San Diego County officials said Friday five wildfires have been 100 percent contained. Still, crews were focusing efforts on two large fires — one in the city of San Marcos and two blazes at the Marine Corps' Camp Pendleton. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
People look over a canyon ravaged by wildfire Friday, May 16, 2014, in Carlsbad, Calif. Some evacuation orders were lifted early Friday in an area near the fiercest of several wildfires in San Diego County, as crews building containment lines around the blazes hoped cooler temperatures will help them make further progress. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
Chase and Brittany Boslet take pictures of smoke from the Las Pulgas fire burning on the Marine Corps Camp Pendleton base Friday, May 16, 2014, from a highway rest area near Oceanside, Calif. San Diego County officials said Friday five wildfires have been 100 percent contained. Still, crews were focusing efforts on two large fires — one in the city of San Marcos and two blazes at the Marine Corps' Camp Pendleton. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
Houses sit untouched above a canyon ravaged by wildfire Friday, May 16, 2014, in Carlsbad, Calif. Some evacuation orders were lifted early Friday in an area near the fiercest of several wildfires in San Diego County, as crews building containment lines around the blazes hoped cooler temperatures will help them make further progress. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
Marines move military vehicles near the entrance to Marine Corps Camp Pendleton in front of smoke plumes from the Las Pulgas wildfire burning on base Friday, May 16, 2014, in Oceanside, Calif. San Diego County officials said Friday five wildfires have been 100 percent contained. Still, crews were focusing efforts on two large fires — one in the city of San Marcos and two blazes at the Marine Corps' Camp Pendleton. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
SAN MARCOS, CA - MAY 15: A house burns near an eagle sculpture at the Cocos fire on May 15, 2014 in San Marcos, California. Fire agencies throughout the state are scrambling to prepare for what is expected to be a dangerous year of wildfires in this third year of extreme drought in California. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
SAN MARCOS, CA - MAY 15: A house burns at the Cocos fire on May 15, 2014 in San Marcos, California. Fire agencies throughout the state are scrambling to prepare for what is expected to be a dangerous year of wildfires in this third year of extreme drought in California. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
SAN MARCOS, CA - MAY 15: Flames spread at the Cocos fire on May 15, 2014 in San Marcos, California. Fire agencies throughout the state are scrambling to prepare for what is expected to be a dangerous year of wildfires in this third year of extreme drought in California. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
SAN MARCOS, CA - MAY 15: A firefighter pulls a hose in position while battling the Cocos fire on May 15, 2014 in San Marcos, California. Fire agencies throughout the state are scrambling to prepare for what is expected to be a dangerous year of wildfires in this third year of extreme drought in California. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
SAN MARCOS, CA - MAY 15: Smoke rises as the southeast flank of the Cocos fire bears down on houses near Del Dios Highway on May 15, 2014 near San Marcos, California. Fire agencies throughout the state are scrambling to prepare for what is expected to be a dangerous year of wildfires in this third year of extreme drought in California. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
SAN MARCOS, CA - MAY 15: A house burns at the Cocos fire on May 15, 2014 in San Marcos, California. Fire agencies throughout the state are scrambling to prepare for what is expected to be a dangerous year of wildfires in this third year of extreme drought in California. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
SAN MARCOS, CA - MAY 15: Ranch equipment burns at the Cocos fire on May 15, 2014 in San Marcos, California. Fire agencies throughout the state are scrambling to prepare for what is expected to be a dangerous year of wildfires in this third year of extreme drought in California. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
SAN MARCOS, CA - MAY 15: A firefighter pulls a hose into position to battle the Cocos fire on May 15, 2014 in San Marcos, California. Fire agencies throughout the state are scrambling to prepare for what is expected to be a dangerous year of wildfires in this third year of extreme drought in California. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
SAN MARCOS, CA - MAY 15: A ranch smolders at the Cocos fire on May 15, 2014 in San Marcos, California. Fire agencies throughout the state are scrambling to prepare for what is expected to be a dangerous year of wildfires in this third year of extreme drought in California. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
Fire engulfs a structure during a wildfire Thursday, May 15, 2014, in Escondido, Calif. One of the nine fires burning in San Diego County suddenly flared Thursday afternoon and burned close to homes, trigging thousands of new evacuation orders. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
A fire climbs a hillside toward homes Thursday, May 15, 2014, in San Marcos, Calif. The San Diego County sheriff says nearly 13,000 new evacuation notices have been issued due to a wildfire. Sheriff Bill Gore said the notifications are due to a Thursday afternoon flare-up and erratic winds around the Southern California city of San Marcos. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)
A helicopter drops retardants while battling the Cocos fire Thursday, May 15, 2014, in San Marcos, Calif. The San Diego County sheriff says nearly 13,000 new evacuation notices have been issued due to a wildfire. Sheriff Bill Gore said the notifications are due to a Thursday afternoon flare-up and erratic winds around the Southern California city of San Marcos. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)
A mountain top home burns in the Cocos fire Thursday, May 15, 2014, in San Marcos, Calif. One of the nine fires burning in San Diego County suddenly flared Thursday afternoon and burned close to homes, trigging thousands of new evacuation orders. (AP Photo)
The skeleton shell of a home is engulfed in flames Thursday, May 15, 2014, in San Marcos, Calif. One of the nine fires burning in San Diego County suddenly flared Thursday afternoon and burned close to homes, trigging thousands of new evacuation orders. (AP Photo)
A brush fire roars up a hillside filling the air with smoke and embers Thursday, May 15, 2014, in San Marcos, Calif. Gusty winds failed to return Thursday morning in San Diego County wildfire areas and authorities said it was a window of opportunity to make further gains against flames that burned homes and drove tens of thousands from their homes. (AP Photo)
Firefighters take a break on a hillside after hours of work Thursday, May 15, 2014, in San Marcos, Calif. Gusty winds failed to return Thursday morning in San Diego County wildfire areas and authorities said it was a window of opportunity to make further gains against flames that burned homes and drove tens of thousands from their homes. (AP Photo)
A structure burns during a wildfire Thursday, May 15, 2014, in Escondido, Calif. One of the nine fires burning in San Diego County suddenly flared Thursday afternoon and burned close to homes, trigging thousands of new evacuation orders. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
A firefighter moves past a burning structure during a wildfire Thursday, May 15, 2014, in Escondido, Calif. One of the nine fires burning in San Diego County suddenly flared Thursday afternoon and burned close to homes, trigging thousands of new evacuation orders. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
A Riverside firefighter covers the face of another firefighter as they work a wildfire Thursday, May 15, 2014, in Escondido, Calif. One of the nine fires burning in San Diego County suddenly flared Thursday afternoon and burned close to homes, trigging thousands of new evacuation orders.(AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
A lone tree stands in the path of approaching flames as wild fire burns through a canyon Tuesday, May 13, 2014, in San Diego. Wildfires destroyed a home and forced the evacuation of several others Tuesday in California as a high-pressure system brought unseasonable heat and gusty winds to a parched state that should be in the middle of its rainy season. (AP Photo)
Flames grow as a wild fire burns out-of-control in the north county area of San Diego Tuesday, May 13, 2014, in San Diego. Wildfires destroyed a home and forced the evacuation of several others Tuesday in California as a high-pressure system brought unseasonable heat and gusty winds to a parched state that should be in the middle of its rainy season. (AP Photo)
Firefighters watch from a ridge as a helicopter drops retardant on a out-of- control wild fire Tuesday, May 13, 2014, in San Diego. (AP Photo)
SAN CLEMENTE, CA - MAY 16: A surfer at Trestles beach looks back at an Erickson air crane firefighting helicopter sucking water from a lagoon to fight the Talega Fire on nearby Camp Pendleton on May 16, 2014 near San Clemente, California. The Talega Fire, which began this morning, is one of three large wildfires on Camp Pendleton that have scorched more than 22,000 acres. Firefighters have been battling 11 wildfires in San Diego County this week, including the fires on the Marine base. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
SAN CLEMENTE, CA - MAY 16: A CH 53 Super Stallion Marine helicopter carries a bucket of water scooped from the ocean to fight the Talega Fire on nearby Camp Pendleton on May 16, 2014 near San Clemente, California. The Talega Fire, which began this morning, is one of three large wildfires on Camp Pendleton that have scorched more than 22,000 acres. Firefighters have been battling 11 wildfires in San Diego County this week, including the fires on the Marine base. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
SAN MARCOS, CA - MAY 15: A house burns at the Cocos fire on May 15, 2014 in San Marcos, California. Fire agencies throughout the state are scrambling to prepare for what is expected to be a dangerous year of wildfires in this third year of extreme drought in California. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
SAN MARCOS, CA - MAY 15: The grill of a pickup truck is left melted by the Cocos fire on May 15, 2014 in San Marcos, California. Fire agencies throughout the state are scrambling to prepare for what is expected to be a dangerous year of wildfires in this third year of extreme drought in California. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
SAN MARCOS, CA - MAY 15: A firefighter hoses flames at the Cocos fire on May 15, 2014 in San Marcos, California. Fire agencies throughout the state are scrambling to prepare for what is expected to be a dangerous year of wildfires in this third year of extreme drought in California. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
SAN MARCOS, CA - MAY 15: Ranch equipment burns at the Cocos fire on May 15, 2014 in San Marcos, California. Fire agencies throughout the state are scrambling to prepare for what is expected to be a dangerous year of wildfires in this third year of extreme drought in California. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
SAN MARCOS, CA - MAY 15: A house burns at the Cocos fire on May 15, 2014 in San Marcos, California. Fire agencies throughout the state are scrambling to prepare for what is expected to be a dangerous year of wildfires in this third year of extreme drought in California. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
A helicopter attacks a wild fire burning Tuesday, May 13, 2014, in San Diego. Wildfires destroyed a home and forced the evacuation of several others Tuesday in California as a high-pressure system brought unseasonable heat and gusty winds to a parched state that should be in the middle of its rainy season. (AP Photo)
A helicopter flies over burning vegetation as it nears homes Wednesday, May 14, 2014, in Carlsbad, Calif. More wildfires broke out Wednesday in San Diego County — threatening homes in Carlsbad and forcing the evacuations of military housing and an elementary school at Camp Pendleton — as Southern California is in the grip of a heat wave. (AP Photo)
A helicopter drops water on the grounds surrounding one of the luxury homes of the Fairbanks Ranch area where a wild fire threaten homes Tuesday, May 13, 2014, in San Diego. Wildfires pushed by gusty winds chewed through canyons parched by California’s drought, prompting evacuation orders for more than 20,000 homes on the outskirts of San Diego and another 1,200 homes and businesses in Santa Barbara County 250 miles to the north. (AP Photo)
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