NASCHITTI — Four men on Tuesday repaired the corral at the Naschitti auction area to house 15 goats and kids after the animals were transported from homes on the Ch'ooshgai Mountains that were evacuated because of the growing Assayii Lake Fire.
The men later drove on one of the community's rocky dirt roads to rescue a herd of sheep left behind in a corral. The men said the animals' owner did not have the resources to haul them to the chapter's flatlands.
At an orange stucco hogan where they stopped to check for the sheep, thick smoke from the fire rose from the mountains as the odor of smoke filled the air.
The men never found the sheep.
This was part of the routine on Tuesday at the Naschitti Chapter, where residents are trying their best to live while the fire looms in the mountains west of the chapter house. As of 9:54 p.m. Tuesday, the fire had reached 12,107 acres, according to Shari Malone, public information officer for the Southwest Area Incident Management Team 3. The blaze was still at zero percent containment as of Tuesday night.
Throughout the day, the chapter house was alive with activity as residents gathered in the main area and volunteers hauled donations — bottled water, juice boxes, canned vegetables and noodles — inside.
Naschitti resident Alberta Wesley sat on one of the metal folding chairs inside the chapter house. Wesley lives in a nearby housing area and first saw smoke rising from behind the mountains on Friday.
"We're hoping it won't get worst," Wesley said.
Her concern is the smoke and its effect on her livestock and the elders who own sheep and camp in the mountains.
"It's scary. I'm just hoping it calms down, and they put out the fire," she said.
At about 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, Melvin Stevens, the chapter's incident commander, spoke to residents gathered inside the chapter house.
"We're going to get through this in one piece," Stevens said.
In an interview Monday evening, Stevens said nine evacuees were sheltered at the Naschitti Senior Center, 13 were sent to Ch'ooshgai Community School in Tohatchi and nine were sent to Newcomb High School gymnasium.
Meanwhile, donations poured in. At the Newcomb High School gymnasium, Sallie Nelson, of Sheep Springs, was among a group of volunteers bagging donated personal items for firefighters and community members.
"I like it," Nelson said of the volunteer effort. "It's helping the community and the people and seeing what we can do to help them."
Also helping was Ivetta Yazzie, a Sheep Springs resident who lives at the base of the mountains. Yazzie received an evacuation notice on Sunday but decided to remain at her home.
"I wanted to stay," she said. "It was my choice."
The smoke is visible from her property, and ash settles on the family's vehicles overnight, but Yazzie is glad the fire remains a distance from her property.
"I'm upset about how careless people can be," she said. "I feel for the people who are right in that area."
In the evening, crews from the Navajo Scouts Fire arrived at the Newcomb gymnasium. They received the items bagged by Nelson, Yazzie and others and helped unload a truckload of bottled water and orange buckets, donated by Home Depot in Farmington.
Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly, along with Gov. Susana Martinez and Navajo Nation Vice President Rex Lee Jim, toured the fire area by helicopter on Tuesday.
Shelly said the governor offered state resources to help the firefighting effort, and he asked that state police increase their presence on U.S. Highway 491 because there have been reports about vandalism in communities affected by the fire.
He said the Navajo Nation Department of Agriculture will transport livestock left in the mountains.
"They don't need to go out there," Shelly said, of reports of residents attempting access to the evacuated areas to collect their animals.
Jim said he spoke on a local radio station and asked people to pray for the winds to calm and to protect those affected by the fire.
"It impacts people all over," Jim said.