FARMINGTON – A wildfire on the Navajo Nation has grown to more than 3,000 acres in size and was 0% contained as of Monday, fueled by dry conditions and high winds during the last two days.
The lightning-caused Wood Springs Two fire was first detected Saturday, according to the Bureau of Indian Affairs Navajo Region Fire Management. The Southwest Incident Management Team 5 planned to take over command Tuesday morning.
The fire was sparked near Wood Springs, Arizona, in the northeast corner of the state. On Sunday evening, the fire was reported to be around 300 acres, but by Monday afternoon it had exploded to over 3,000 acres. The growth was aided by 40- to 50-mph winds out of the southwest.
The fire was creating hazy skies in Durango on Monday.
Navajo Region Fire Management said Monday evening that fire activity had increased and advised residents near Sawmill and Fluted Rock to be on high alert.
The Navajo Nation leadership began to close roads and order evacuations. On Sunday, Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said in a news release that despite high winds, fire crews continued to work to contain the wildfire.
“All residents in the area must be very cautious, and we ask that everyone cooperate with the emergency responders, especially if you are asked to evacuate from your residence. We are working with the BIA and chapters to provide relief and places of shelter for displaced residents,” Nez said. “We must also remain diligent and mindful of the risks posed by COVID-19 as we address this wildfire.”
The Navajo Nation, one of the top three coronavirus hot spots in the country two months ago, has seen progress in decreasing its high rates of the virus during the past few weeks. Halting the spread of the virus from locations outside the Nation will require collaboration between the Navajo Region Fire Management and Nez’s administration to bring in outside resources in a large wildfire response.
“This is a very serious situation. The high winds are making response efforts very challenging at this point,” said Navajo Nation Vice President Myron Lizer.
Smoke has been visible north of the fire, including as far away as parts of San Juan County, New Mexico. The county’s Office of Emergency Management said it expected smoke from the Wood Springs Two fire to affect Farmington and the rest of the county Monday afternoon and evening. It advised residents to avoid outside activities, shut off swamp coolers and close windows to keep from drawing smoke into houses.
Navajo Region Fire Management asked residents to avoid the wildfire area because of hazardous terrain, and to avoid access roads and trails near the fire.
Navajo Route 7 from Sawmill to Chinle and Wood Springs, and Navajo Route 26 between Nazlini and Sawmill are closed. First responders were evacuating residents who are in immediate danger, Nez said.
The northern portion of the Navajo Nation remains in severe drought conditions, while the southern portion is in moderate drought conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Open fires and fireworks remain restricted on the Navajo Nation.
A red flag warning has been issued for the area by the National Weather Service. According to the warning, the strongest winds are expected across western New Mexico and “the lack of precipitation and dry fuels combined with strong winds and low humidity values will create critical fire weather conditions.”