Neil Damon
A weary firefighter prays between bouts with the Assayii Lake Fire in the sacred Chuska Mountains on the Navajo Nation.

Navajo's Assayii Lake Fire: Heartbreaking Losses, and How to Help


Firefighters are making headway against the Assayii Lake Fire, but not before it gobbled up acre upon acre of sacred land in the Chuska Mountains between Gallup and Shiprock.

The Assayii fire on the Navajo Nation had been 20 percent contained by Thursday June 19, as the blaze reached 13,450 acres, and 867 personnel battled the flames, according to InciWeb. But the victory is destined to be bittersweet.

Though no one has died, the toll is still great. Members of two communities had been evacuated, and at least 13 summer sheep camps had been destroyed, according to the Navajo Times.

“We’re going to be losing everything and our memories will be gone,” Elvina Yazzie told the Navajo Times on June 16 after driving her family’s flock of 28 sheep down the mountain with the help of her nephew, Nelvin Yazzie. “It just hurts because our grandparents built that hogan.”

Several other homesteads were also destroyed, the Navajo Times reported. While some displaced residents could return to their winter homes, others have nowhere else to go, Naschitti Chapter President Hoskie Bryant told the Gallup Independent.

New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez met with Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly and Vice President Rex Lee Jim in Window Rock on June 17, according to a statement from the Navajo Nation. They flew over the fire, and Martinez offered assistance. The Navajo Nation said that 13 Type-I hotshot crews were fighting the flames along with other crews, plus 15 engines, four dozers and other miscellaneous resources.

Donations are being accepted at several chapter houses, Navajo Nation Emergency Management Director Rose Whitehair told the Navajo Times. The Crystal Chapter House, Naschitti Chapter House, Shiprock Chapter House, Fort Defiance Field House (Home Base), Tohatchi High School Gymnasium and Newcomb School are looking for flour, potatoes, eggs, paperware (bowls, plates, utensils, cups) Zip-lock bags, disposable gloves, oil, salt, baking powder, dish towels, steel knives, pots, pans, napkins, coffee, Kool-Aid and ice tea mix, power bars, cold cuts, bread, soda, water, juice, pitchers for Kool-Aid, canned food and boxes for food storage, according to the Navajo Times. The American Red Cross is fielding financial donations and offering other aid.

“Officials are asking that those donating items refrain from too much sugar products and also to be aware of the expiration dates,” the Navajo Times stated.

More information on aid is available at the Navajo Nation Department of Emergency Management. Up-to-date information on the fire can be found at the Assayii Lake Fire Facebook page

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City Slicker's picture
City Slicker
Submitted by City Slicker on
One person was quoted in this weeks Navajo Times, "the fire is telling us something". I think the wind is saying "don't be burning whatever on a windy day." This event should be a lesson learned for many Natives in Indian Country. The wind can fan a fire out of control and become destructive. So, please be careful with your camp fire, any debris burning, and trash incineration. Mind the weather, fuel (vegetation) conditions, and Red Flags predictions by the National Weather Service.

Pediowoman's picture
Submitted by Pediowoman on
I would like to donate cash (I live too far way to help with material items) but would rather send it directly to someone in need than trust the Red there another option?

Flower's picture
Submitted by Flower on
Thanks to all wildland firefighting crews and especially our Native crews who are fighting this huge blaze in AZ and helping to protect our sacred homelands throughout the country. God bless you all and watch out for one another so that you come home safe to your families. Material things can be replaced, but you cannot.