Shelly declares state of emergency after 11,000 acres burn near Assayii Lake

Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz., June 16, 2014

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After more than 11,000 acres had burned near Assayii Lake, Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly issued an executive order calling for a fire restriction based on the advice of the Navajo Nation Forestry Department.

Over 11,000 acres had burned after an unattended fire ignited on June 13 around 3:30 p.m.

Authorities are evacuating families in Sheep Springs and Naschitti due to fire danger and limited visibility from excessive smoke. Travelers are encouraged to avoid the area.

“I direct all Navajo divisions, departments and programs to commit resources to the Assayii Lake Fire. We need to do all we can to stop the fire from spreading further,” said Shelly.

Forestry officials were preparing for the high fire danger due to low precipitation, high wind conditions, low humidity and high temperatures.

Tsehootsooi Medical Center on stand by for fire victims, firefighters

FORT DEFIANCE – Tséhootsooí Medical Center's Incident Command System team is on stand-by to assist with the Assayii Fire.

TMC officials are extending support to tribal, state, and community fire management officials dealing with the Assayii Fire.

TMC’s ICS team is concerned about any possible health effects with community members from smoke inhalation and the possible consequences its' toxicity. We encourage anyone who may be experiencing trouble with their health to visit TMC immediately. TMC is ready to provide any health care related support needed. TMC continues to be on standby for any trauma cases.

TMC is aware, the Assayii Fire is not contained and high winds and extreme dry conditions combine for a long battle. 

The Incident Command Team met at 8:20 a.m. and at 2:00 p.m. today to pre-plan.  TMC is not setting up the complete full Incident Command Center at this time but is still on direct stand-by as needed.

Hospital leadership is also concerned about its employees who may live near the fire. Employees who are directly impacted by the fire were asked to work with their supervisors and the ICS team to get the support they need to prevent any emergencies. Employees directly impacted are to contact their direct supervisors, as they will be granted paid leave in case of an emergency.

TMC ICS has also received numerous inquiries from staff wanting to assist and/or donate to those impacted. The TMC ICS will remain on stand-by, until further notice.   Water, food, bedding, and even board games are being accepted at the Medical Center for employees to donate to the communities impacted by the fire.

For Updates: For donations, contact: Edison James @ 928-729-8316.

On June 16, the Navajo Nation Commission on Emergency Management passed a resolution declaring a state of emergency for the Assayii Lake Fire. Shelly signed the declaration and ordered applicable tribal resources to assist with efforts to contain and extinguish the fire.

He said tribal employees have been working with the BIA Navajo Region to battle the blaze since the fire began. This included participation in several meetings over the past two days to mobilize forces to battle the blaze.

“Please use caution when traveling near the fire area. The heavy smoke makes it difficult to see and breathe,” he said. “We are asking that the general public comply with the fire restriction.

“This is especially important because of the Fourth of July holiday right around the corner and the prevalence of fireworks,” he added.

On June 15, an initial meeting was convened at the Navajo Nation Museum in response to the fire, which was spread across 200 acres at the time.

Staff from the Office of the President and Vice President was in attendance along with the BIA Navajo Region, Crystal Chapter officials, and the Southwest Area Incident Management Team 3.
OPVP issued a public service announcement on KTNN restricted access to roads leading into Assayii Lake. Additionally, the Navajo Times warned area residents about the fire through its social media sites.

The same evening, a coordinators meeting convened at 7 p.m. at the museum to provide updates on the fire. During that briefing, the fire grew to more than 1,000 acres because of the high winds, which were in excess of 65 mph.

Hotshot crews from Arizona tied in with the Navajo Scouts to fight the fire, which increased the number of personnel to more than 250 people during the night. The winds pushed the fire again through the night.

The incident command team transition meeting convened at 6 a.m. at the Crystal Community Center on June 16. The jurisdiction for the fire was transitioned from the BIA Navajo Region to the Southwest Area Incident Management Team 3.

During the briefing, the fire burned more than 2,000 acres. A few hours later, during the daily cooperators meeting at 9 a.m., the fire increased to more than 10,000 acres.
Limited visibility and heavy winds have prevented crews from effectively fighting the fire. Wind gusts are currently between 60 to 70 mph, restricting any aerial crews from dropping flame retardant materials on the fire.

More than 700 personnel are expected to be battling the blaze tonight. Black Mesa, Blue Ridge, Ft. Apache, Globe, Mesa, Mormon Lake, Navajo, Payson, Prescott, Mt. Taylor and Zuni Hotshots are on location fighting the fire.

A community is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the Ft. Defiance Field House today.

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