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Assayii fire on Navajo Nation 60% contained

Hundreds of firefighters spent Sunday scouring steep and rugged terrain just east of the Arizona-New Mexico border for any hot spots left from a wildfire that has scorched more than 22 square miles of the Navajo Nation.

Some pockets of pinon and juniper were still smoldering and flames were creeping along the interior of the Assayii Lake Fire. But many parts have started to cool down, giving crews a chance to mop up along the edges of the blaze.

“They’re going through and trying to identify any hot spots at all to the point where they’re digging and taking off their glove and feeling it to make sure it has cooled completely down,” fire information officer Patricia Bean said.

Containment reached 60 percent Sunday and confidence was growing among firefighters since their lines held against brisk winds on Saturday.

Assayii Lake Fire-ref

A member of the Navajo Scouts works on taking down an aspen tree on Friday while crews battle the Assayii Lake Fire in the Sand Spring area of the Ch’ooshgai Mountains. (The Associated Press)

“We’re definitely on the uphill end of this fire in terms of positive things,” Bean said.

Most of the evacuations for people living near the rural communities of Naschitti and Sheep Springs were lifted over the weekend and roads north of the fire were opened. Areas to the south remained closed due to firefighting and rehabilitation activities.

Officials with the Navajo Nation accompanied ranchers with more than a dozen trailers into the mountains Saturday to roundup cattle and livestock that were either trapped or scattered when the fire began to grow last week. The work continued Sunday.

Some Navajo families were concerned that their sheep camps were charred. Fire officials have said the blaze destroyed a handful of structures and the assessment was ongoing.

A team of rehabilitation experts arrived over the weekend and planned to meet with residents Tuesday to discuss the fire’s intensity and what kind of work will be needed to restore the area, which has been used for centuries by Navajos to graze their livestock.

As firefighters worked to boost containment, officials at the tribe’s emergency management department were fielding questions about how they have been handling donations. Some community members took to social media and accused the tribe of not distributing food, water and other supplies that have flooded in over the last week.

The emergency management department said Sunday that it has requested that donations of items stop. The department said it has been overwhelmed and needs time to sort through the bounty to determine what might be perishable so those items can be distributed first.

The department said the tribe has set up a relief account at Wells Fargo Bank that will go toward helping those affected by the fire.

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