Assayii Lake Fire has nearby residents worried

Updated: 06/16/2014 6:43 PM | Created: 06/16/2014 6:18 PM
By: Devin Neeley, KOB Eyewitness News 4

The winds howled all day in Crystal, NM. The small community has as a backdrop the beautiful Chuska Mountains, but on this day, in addition to the red dust kicked up by the wind, there is smoke in the air.

Crystal sits just west of Narbona Pass so the west wind carries the smell away from the community but the residents here are still readying themselves for evacuation, just in case. Ominously, Highway 134 was closed just as this reporter reached the western end of Narbona Pass.

Monday afternoon, residents gathered at the Crystal Community Center to learn the size and scope of the fire. The Chapter President and Vice President briefed residents in Navajo Language. Representatives from Southwest Incident Command gave their report in English, and were translated into Navajo language.

There was no need to translate the audible gasp from the crowd gathered in the meeting room as fire officials reported that the fire now covered 11,000 acres, up from just 600 acres just 19 hours ago.  

“It makes me feel helpless, like my horses right now up there in all the smoke,” Melvin Foster was choked up as he spoke.

Foster has lived in the Crystal area all his life. Today his main concern is his horses.

“Yeah, we can’t get up there. We tried this morning but we were pretty much told that we couldn't get up that way at this point and time.”

He says it is tough to watch the land he loves consumed in fire.

“I never realized that something like this would happen to our beautiful land, it’s just gone in a blink of an eye, it’s just sad that something like this would happen.” No tears flow from Foster’s eyes but his voice waivers enough to show his deep-rooted feelings for the land.

For Foster and hundreds of other residents worrying about the livestock, there is little help as winds are expected to be worse tomorrow and the fire continues to spread.

“It’s hard seeing something like that to Mother Nature.”

Incident commanders say there will be 700 firefighters in the area and at the ready tonight. Winds are too severe to use the air firefighting assets and too unpredictable to deploy firefighters to take a bite out of the fire, yet.

Schools in the area, including Newcomb High, Newcomb Middle, Newcomb Elementary, and Naschitti Elementary have been evacuated and closed due to the smoke.

Current forecasts say the bad wind from today will only be worse tomorrow, and officials say they may only be able to really fight this fire on Wednesday.

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