From left, Keon Nez, Keenan Nez, John Tsosie and John Tsosie Jr., walk on Monday along U.S. Highway 491 near mile-post 65 inside the Sanostee Chapter
From left, Keon Nez, Keenan Nez, John Tsosie and John Tsosie Jr., walk on Monday along U.S. Highway 491 near mile-post 65 inside the Sanostee Chapter boundary. The group is hoping to raise money for people affected by the Assayii Lake Fire. (Jon Austria — The Daily Times)

SANOSTEE — Two Navajo men are at the center of a 75-mile walk to collect monetary donations to benefit individuals affected by last month's Assayii Lake Fire.

Father and son Ernest Tsosie Jr. and John Tsosie started their walk from Shiprock to Navajo on Sunday.

John Tsosie lives nine miles west of Lake Asááyi, near where the fire started on June 13 in the Ch'ooshgai Mountains. He saw the smoke rise and then watched as the high winds contributed to the fire's growth.

"It was definitely a concern," John Tsosie said.

The father-son team planned the walk through their organization, Walking the Healing Path, and named the walk a "Journey to renew and rebuild."

They will travel south on U.S. Highway 491 then west on N.M. Highway 134 and south on Indian Route 12 to Navajo.

The journey started at the Navajo Nation Shopping Center in Shiprock.

"The trip has been good. We've got a good response from people honking going by," Ernest Tsosie said during a break on Monday then added that the walk is one way to let the victims know that people are still thinking about them.

"They're not forgotten," the Fort Defiance, Ariz., resident said.

On Monday morning, the Tsosies, along with three others, started from mile post 76 and were planning to walk to the Burnham Junction.

When The Daily Times visited, they were walking toward mile marker 65 on U.S. Highway 491 south of the Little Water convenience store in Sanostee Chapter.

Since the walk is close to their residences, they have been returning home at the end of the day then restarting at where they left off.

As they walk, they are collecting monetary donations, which will go directly to victims through a fund established at Navajo United Way in Window Rock, Ariz.

People can also donate at any Wells Fargo bank under the Assayii Lake Relief Fund, said Renée Hardy, campaign specialist with Navajo United Way.

John Tsosie drinks water on Monday during a break while walking inside the Sanostee Chapter boundary.
John Tsosie drinks water on Monday during a break while walking inside the Sanostee Chapter boundary. (Jon Austria — The Daily Times)

Hardy has been helping the Tsosies with the walk by following them in a blue Dodge dually pickup and supplying water, Gatorade and snacks to keep hydration and energy steady.

So far $20 has been collected through a donation from a motorcyclist who stopped the group but they continue to receive support from people who honk as they drive by.

"I was thinking to myself that we've been getting a lot of honks from a lot of people encouraging us. I wish those honks would equal a dollar," John Tsosie said.

The fire consumed 14,712 acres before reaching 100 percent containment on July 3.

Johnson Benallie, assistant fire management officer with the Bureau of Indian Affairs Fire Management in Fort Defiance, Ariz., said firefighters are continuing suppression work within the fire's boundaries and dangers continue to exist.

Renee Hardy helps her sons Keenan Nez and Keon Nez cool off on Monday during a break while walking inside the Sanostee Chapter boundary.
Renee Hardy helps her sons Keenan Nez and Keon Nez cool off on Monday during a break while walking inside the Sanostee Chapter boundary. (Jon Austria — The Daily Times)

"We're still patrolling and monitoring it," Benallie said then added that monsoon activity is a benefit because the rainfall can extinguish hot tree stumps and other areas of heat.

Rose Whitehair, director of the Navajo Nation Department of Emergency Management, said access into the fire area remains restricted because of potential dangers and residents should work with their chapters if they need to enter the area.

So far two families and two residences were identified as needing assistance while other reports of structural damages need to be further investigated but that cannot be done until the fire zone is completely safe, Whitehair said.

She added that the emergency management department is waiting for the official report from the Burned Area Emergency Response Team, which will have its close out meeting with tribal officials on Wednesday in Window Rock.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636. nsmith@daily-times.com Follow her @nsmithdt on Twitter.