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

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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.”

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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