The Assayii Lake Fire is now at 40 percent containment. That’s the official word from the Southwest Incident Management Team 3 at about 9:45 p.m., on June 20, 2014.
The YouTube Video, “Day 8 – $3.5 million Assayii Lake Fire” shows the SWIMT 3 reporting that the fire was at 20 percent containment at this morning’s DAILY FIRE UPDATE at the Tse Hootso Middle School “Tin Building” in Fort Defiance, Ariz. The SWIMT 3 has established its command base at the Fort Defiance Field House. Crews are also camped at the Crystal, N.M., Chapter and Community Center and at Newcomb, N.M. Both Crystal and Newcomb are on the Navajo Reservation.
This evening’s fire report showed that the fire was at 13,485 acres and that the SWIMT 3 had 744 firefighting personnel that consisted of 17 crews, 20 engines, 5 helicopters, and 3 dozers.
SWIMT 3 Operations Liaison Ben Fisk opened the daily fire update meeting with the announcement that the new fire map showed “black lines.”
Black lines indicate where the fire has been contained. When the SWIMT 3 accepted the Assayii Lake Fire from the Bureau of Indian Affairs Forestry Department’s wild land firefighting team of Hot Shots, Type 2 Navajo Scouts, dozer crews, water engine crews, and a helitack crew on June 16, 2014, the map showed only red lines around the fire, which at that time was at 11,000 acres. There were 593 firefighting personnel, which included 23 crews, 15 engines, 6 helicopters and 2 dozers.
On JUNE 17, the fire remained at zero containment but it had grown to 12,107 acres. The firefighting personnel also grew to 686, which included 21 crews, 21 engines, 9 helicopters, and 3 dozers.
JUNE 18, which was day 6 of the fire, was the first day that the fire map showed black, which represented five percent containment of the fire, which was at 13,250 acres with 841 firefighting personnel that included 24 crews, 27 engines, 10 helicopters, and 4 dozers.
And yesterday, JUNE 19, the fire was 20 percent contained and at 13,450 acres. There were 867 fire personnel, which included 24 crews, 24 engines, 10 helicopters and 4 dozers.
Before Southwest Incident Management Team 3 Operations Chief Trainee Dave Gesser announced that the fire was 20 percent contained, he noted that yesterday, June 19, was a really good day for the firefighters.
Gesser pointed to the interior portion of the fire map and said that crews had planned to conduct a controlled burn last night but the winds picked up, which cancelled those plans.
Wind continues to be a major factor for the SWIMT 3. Very high winds of 22 miles per hour with gusts up to 45 miles per hour during the first part of the week prevented the team from gaining any containment of the Assayii Lake Fire.
The high winds were also why the local firefighting team lost control of the 40-acre fire, which started on June 13 at the Youth Camp in the Assayii recreational area. Assayii is located about ten miles northeast of Navajo, N.M.
The decision to call in outside firefighting resources was made after a meeting between the Navajo Nation government, BIA Forestry Department and the Southwest Incident Management Team 3 on June 15.
Gesser said that he did an aerial review of the fire yesterday and saw that livestock, mainly cows and horses, were located just outside the eastern portion of the fire line and inside the eastern area of the fire, where there are meadows.
“Our safety officer did come across a herd of sheep,” he said. “He actually got held up by the (sheep) dogs. They wouldn’t let him out of the truck.”
Gesser pointed to another area of the fire map and said that one of the fire crew superintendents was riding on an all terrain vehicle and also came across a herd of sheep.
“The dogs wouldn’t let him get near the sheep,” Gesser said. “For ten minutes he was stopped there because the dogs wouldn’t let him go anywhere.”
QUESTION FROM NASCHITT COMMUNITY MEMBER: We’re asking for livestock rescue and also to have livestock owners go into the area with feed and hay so the livestock don’t eat what’s left of the natural forage.
ANSWER: A livestock rescue is being arranged in the Whiskey Lake area today. Navajo Nation Emergency Operations Liaison Rose Whitehair is the contact person for livestock rescues.
SWIMT 3 Air Operations Branch Director Dan Sullivan reported that after an in depth discussion that a decision was made to release some helicopters because containment of the fire was going so well.
“We felt that was appropriate to help reduce costs and still have the appropriate amount of aircraft to support the folks on the ground and meet our needs,” Sullivan said. “And if anything else should happen, we’d still have enough aircraft to respond to anything starting outside the (fire) line or help the Navajo Nation with a new start.”
According to SWIMT 3 Commander Bea Day, the cost of the fire was at $3.5 million. That was about 9:30 a.m. on June 20.
His reference to new start was about any new fires starting while the SWIMT 3 was still fighting the Assayii Lake Fire.
Sullivan explained that the team is still maintaining two helicopter bases, which are at Window Rock and Gallup, N.M. Some of the helicopters are too large for the Window Rock air field, he said.
He noted that air tankers were concentrated in the northern and northwestern portion of the fire, which is where most of the black fire line is located.
Safety Officer Duane Chapman reported that yesterday, June 19, was a good day for the firefighters on the ground and that there were no reported injuries.
QUESTION: Are team meteorologist still on board?
Navajo Nation Emergency Operations Liaison Rose Whitehair said that her team is working on LIVESTOCK ISSUES and that her office and team have not seen any “animals in distress.”
Whitehair emphasized that the tribal emergency office has called for a “pause” on all DONATIONS because they are “overwhelmed and inundated” with donations, which are arriving by air and truck loads.
She added that the emergency office and SW Incident Management Team 3 are very thankful for the donations.
Whitehair said that a monetary donations fund was established at the Wells Fargo Bank by the Navajo United Way. The name of the account is “Assayii Lake Fire Relief Fund.”
The NNEOC (Navajo Nation Emergency Operations Center) is located on the second floor of the Navajo Nation Division of Transportation in Tse Bonito, N.M. and the office phone numbers are 505-371-8415, 8416, and 8417.
Southwest Incident Management Team 3 Commander Bea Day predicted that there would be more “black” on tomorrow’s map.
“At least we don’t have the winds like we did,” Day added. “So I think we’re in good shape there.”
She said that SWIMT 3 members are continuing to meet with the various chapters and keep them informed about the fire.
Day said that three Hot Shot crews – Zuni, N.M., Mt. Taylor, N.M. and Payson, Ariz. – were sent home, which is a reflection of the reduced need for Hot Shots on the fire.
The Zuni Type 2 crew also left and there will be more firefighting resources that will be leaving as the fire becomes more and more contained, she explained.
Day explained that a majority of the $3.5 million cost of the Assayii Lake Fire, like other large wild land fire, is for air support and crews.
The air tankers are a very expensive resource but they are very efficient resources when they are used in conjunction with the ground crews, she noted.
Day said that New Mexico highway 134, which is between Sheep Springs, N.M., and Crystal, N.M., and goes through Narbona Pass, continues to be closed because of the many unpaved roads that come off from it.
Local people are familiar with those unpaved roads, which ultimately lead into the fire zone, and the fire is still very dangerous, she said.
During the days of heavy winds, Day said, there were people getting into the fire zone and those individuals were putting themselves at risk.