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Navajo Nation fire expands to estimated 10,000 acres

Copyright © 2014 Albuquerque Journal

A wildfire expanded Monday to an estimated 10,000 acres in the Navajo Nation’s Chuska Mountains north of Gallup, prompting officials to order an evacuation of Naschitti.

Dry, windy weather hampered efforts by about 250 firefighters to contain the fire, first reported Friday about five miles southeast of Crystal, N.M., said Shari Malone, spokeswoman for Southwest Area Incident Management Team 3.

Strong winds grounded helicopters and prevented firefighters from establishing fire lines on Monday, Malone said.


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Officials ordered the evacuation of Naschitti about 2 p.m. after flames crossed the boundary between the Navajo Nation’s Crystal and Naschitti chapters, Malone said. Officials also were considering the evacuation of Sheep Springs.

The Tohatchi High School gymnasium and Shiprock Chapter House were designated as shelters, she said.

Naschitti, about 40 miles north of Gallup, has approximately 360 residents.

The fire was named the Assayii Lake Fire for a small lake in the rugged Chuska Mountains southeast of Crystal where the fire originated.

More dry, windy weather is forecast today, with winds 25-35 mph and gusts up to 45 mph expected in the afternoon in northwestern New Mexico, the National Weather Service reported.

Most of the state is expected to remain under a red-flag warning today, prompted by strong winds and drought conditions. Authorities ask people to avoid building campfires and other activities that generate sparks, such as welding.

In the Santa Fe National Forest, firefighters on Monday formed a fireline around a 2.4-acre lightning-caused blaze about three miles northeast of Jemez Springs, U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Donna Nemeth said. First reported Saturday, the East Fork Fire has charred Ponderosa pine and Douglas firs on steep slopes in the Jemez Ranger District, she said.

Lightning was blamed for a fire in El Rito Ranger District of Carson National Forest that burned across at least 3 acres. Crews built a hand line around the Petaca Fire and expected to have it contained today, officials said.