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Wildfire on Navajo Nation drives families from homes

Strong gusty winds grounded helicopters and have hampered efforts to create fire lines to contain a large wildfire on the Navajo Nation in New Mexico, an official said.

By
Frances Burns
A helicopter battles a fire in Oak Creek Canyon in northern Arizona in 2006. (UPI Photo/Will Powers)
A helicopter battles a fire in Oak Creek Canyon in northern Arizona in 2006. (UPI Photo/Will Powers) | License Photo

GALLUP, N.M., June 18 (UPI) -- A fire on the Navajo Nation in northwest New Mexico has spread to more than 12,000 acres as hundreds of firefighters struggle to control it, officials said.

The Assayii Lake fire was completely uncontained late Tuesday. Charlie Armiger, spokesman for the Southwest Area Incident Management Team 3, said strong gusty winds kept helicopters on the ground and made creating fire lines difficult.

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Evacuations were ordered Monday in two small communities. John Brooks, a teacher at Tohatchi High School, said 11 people spent Monday night in the gym there and another 40 came in Tuesday from the village of Naschitti.

"We've had people come throughout the day to get out of the smoke," Brooks said.

Joseph Tsosie Jr. of Naschitti said he and his wife and daughter decided to take refuge in the high school Monday because smoke from the fire was making his asthma worse.

"We already miss home," Tsosie said Tuesday. "We just want to go back home and sleep in our own beds."

The fire, first reported Monday, is believed to have been caused by human activity.

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In Arizona, a much smaller fire in Oak Creek Canyon between Flagstaff and Sedona was about 25 percent contained. That blaze, believed to have been caused Monday by a downed power line, charred about 70 acres.

No injuries were reported from either fire.

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