CH'OOSHGAI MOUNTAINS — During Friday's day shift — which runs from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. — Dana Bagnoli manned a drop point station on Navajo Route 30, the dirt road that leads to the top of the Ch'ooshgai Mountains.
The division group supervisor trainee from the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona is one of more than 700 personnel continuing to protect the tribal land one week after the start of the Assayii Lake Fire.
"The burn itself, because of the pine islands and the dry lake beds, it is a spotty fire," Bagnoli said. "This was a wind-driven fire, and it advanced because of the winds. It wasn't fuel driven, it wasn't terrain driven (and) it was all spotty."
As of 9 p.m. Friday, the fire had grown to 13,485 acres and was 40 percent contained, according to Patricia Bean, public information officer with the Southwest Area Incident Management Team 3.
Bean said the fire's boundary is "going to stay relatively the same, maybe growing slightly on the south end."
"We're starting to be more confident in where we are at," she said. "We don't really feel there's a high probability of it spotting or growing."
In addition to aerial support from helicopters, crews on Friday mopped up hot spots in the fire's eastern, western and northern edges, searching for any trees that could injure firefighters or people.
The blaze's southern flank contains more unburned vegetation, which crews burned on Friday. That resulted in more smoke in the area than usual, Bean said. Also on Friday, the number of people battling the fire dropped to 744.
Near Bagnoli's drop station 40, a group of crews called Division Foxtrot conducted mop-up activities, which reduce residual smoke after a fire has been controlled by extinguishing or removing burning material along or near the control line.
The crews were also tasked with line building and reinforcing existing lines.
Throughout the fire, one area of concern was Washington Peak because it houses a forestry lookout tower, cell phone towers and the Federal Aviation Administration tower, a white structure that resembles a huge golf ball and houses equipment used by the FAA for air traffic control.
"Every day, they stressed the importance of that tower," Bagnoli said. "We were tasked with protecting everything up on Washington Peak. When the fire started, of course, it was headed to the northeast."
She said the worry was it would continue in that direction and damage those structures. Five structures, so far, have been destroyed in the fire.
Bagnoli said one factor that decreased the spread of the fire was prescribed burns completed in certain areas in prior years.
"That's what saved this tower," she said.
When the main fire hit the prescribed burn area, it completely stopped the fire or mitigated it, she said.
Crews placed a portable collapsible water tank nearby and ran white hoses from it in case flames had to be extinguished.
Crews on the ground and in helicopters spotted livestock on Friday — namely dogs, horses and cattle. Mule deer, turkeys, bears, prairie dogs, elk and coyotes have also been seen. The Navajo Nation Emergency Operation Center is working with crews to escort owners to the animals.
"They're very protective sheep dogs," Bagnoli said. "Of course, they normally get fed once or twice a day by their owners, but with the owners gone, we've all shared our sandwiches."
She whistled toward a log cabin to the west of the drop point, but none of the sheep dogs appeared.
"Sometimes, if you whistle, you'll see a little nose pop up," she said, waiting, but no dogs appeared. "We fed them this morning, so they are probably sleeping it off."
Beula Woodie is a strike team crew boss trainee with the Bureau of Indian Affairs Division of Forestry and Wildland Fire Management. Among her duties in the Sand Spring area in the mountains is coordinating the travel and placement of the water engines.
Woodie, originally from Mexican Springs, also helped with the evacuation of residents on June 14.
"I was told to start bringing people off the mountain because the next three to four days was all red flag warnings with wind over 40, 50 miles per hour," she said.
She recalled the thick smoke and dust made it difficult to see when she was conducting evacuations. But, despite the weather, her team managed to evacuate residents.
"It was terrible for the past four days, since Saturday. Today is great, slow not enough wind," Woodie said.
On Friday, she had two crews cutting down trees south of the area and another two groups seeking and destroying hot spots along the fire's eastern and northeastern rim.
In the distance, the sound of chainsaws buzzing — followed by a male voice yelling a word of caution — could be heard.
Woodie said the fire burned in "pockets," avoiding certain homes altogether.
"It's hard to describe or to say anything about that. It's amazing they're still there," she said.