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Fire crews ready, caution urged with any burning

Fire crews ready, caution urged with any burning


Since June 4, four wildfires have been quelled on the Navajo Nation by the Bureau of Indian Affairs Fire and Aviation Management.

On Friday, as the Navajo Times was visiting the office, dispatcher Pat Willeto was on the phone talking to the Chinle Police District about another possible wildfire near Cottonwood.

He later confirmed a vehicle parked beside the road caused the fire, along Navajo Route 4, which leads to Pinon. He also confirmed a trash fire got out of control in Cottonwood but was quickly extinguished.

With winds up to 17 mph on parts of the reservation and no forecast of rain anytime soon, the risk of a fire getting out of control is high.

To ensure his teams are always ready, Johnson Benallie, the regional assistant superintendent fire management officer for the BIA, said three crews with 20 members each are constantly training and maintaining their equipment.

He said some crewmembers were deployed to fires burning in other parts of Arizona.

According to the Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management, the fires with – wide-ranging names – include the Highwire, Maroon, Mountain, Coldwater, Deer, Woodbury, Buck, Hells Gate, Sharpshooter and Bylas fires. The fires have burned a total of about 46,245 acres.

Two of those fires, the Maroon and Coldwater, are burning near the Navajo Nation and have burned a combined total of 25,392 acres.

On the reservation, Benallie said the fire danger level is low. District Ranger Alvin Whitehair, with the Mount Taylor Ranger District in New Mexico, also said the fire danger is low in his district.

“The ERC (energy release component) levels are in the seventies, which means conditions are still wet,” Whitehair said on Friday.

Trash burning is illegal

Navajo Times | Donovan Quintero

Pat Willeto, a dispatcher at the BIA Fire & Aviation Management office in Fort Defiance, answers a call on Friday. Willeto said four fires, all lightning caused, have started and have been extinguished since June 4 on the reservation.

If anyone needs a register form to burn at their homes, they can contact Christopher Yazzie, an environmental technician with the Air Quality Control & Operating Permit Program under the Navajo EPA.

“We recommend people to register their fires,” Yazzie said. “I can email you a copy of the form. They can print it, fill it out and email it back to me and I can stamp it and send it back to them. Or they can come by our office in Fort Defiance. We are located by the water management building.”

Yazzie said he wanted to remind people that trash burning is illegal on the reservation if the requirements were not met.

“They must live outside a 20-mile radius from their nearest transfer station,” he said. “Their nearest neighbor must live at least 300 feet away, and they must not burn plastics, Styrofoam, heavily inked paper or cardboard boxes, and construction wood.”

The only type of material Yazzie said was allowable to burn was old branches and weeds that have been cut.

To report a fire, call your local police department or BIA Fire & Aviation Management at 928-729-2307. To get a burn registration form, email Yazzie at


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