Fire damages former youth center in Shiprock
SHIPROCK — A building that housed various programs and events since its opening in the 1960s was severely damaged from a fire that started Wednesday afternoon.
The 18,600-square-foot building, which stands out among the structures on the community's north side, housed the Boys & Girls Clubs of America for a decade.
Shiprock Fire Department Lt. Randy Frank said there were no injuries and the cause is under investigation.
Frank said the department was notified about the fire at 2:52 p.m. and response came from the tribe's fire departments in Shiprock, Newcomb and Ojo Amarillo and from the San Juan County Fire Department districts and the Farmington Fire Department.
Firefighters ran hoses from hydrants located in the housing area south of the Northern Navajo Medical Center and from the Navajo Housing Authority area east of the facility as part of the effort to extinguish flames.
Navajo Nation Police Chief Phillip Francisco said a set of hoses were placed across U.S. Highway 491, which prompted its closure from 4 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.
An employee with the Navajo Nation Safety and Loss Control Program visited the building Thursday to assess the damage.
The employee, who declined to give his name, said none of the material inside appeared salvageable and the facility will be secured.
"Some areas are dangerous because some of the material, as far as structure, is stressed out already and it can fall at any time. We're telling staff not to go in right now," he said.
The building housed the Boys & Girls Clubs of America from 2005 to 2015 and a portion served as the Shiprock Branch of the Farmington Public Library from 2001 to 2014.
Wetona Becenti, program supervisor for the tribe's Office of Diné Youth, which replaced the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, said the program continued to store equipment in the building and break ins and vandalism occurred within the last year.
"It's heartbreaking because, I believe, that it had a lot of memories for people even before we occupied the facility," Becenti said during a visit to the site Thursday.
To her knowledge, the building opened in 1969 as a college for medical students before it became part of the Fairchild plant operation then served as a civic center, wellness center and youth center.
It was also a place President Bill Clinton and the Rev. Jesse Jackson visited in April 2000.
"Sometimes people used to stop by and talk about how they attended a concert (here)," Becenti said adding it was used for wrestling matches, songs and dances and powwows.
Shiprock resident Nate Ellison said he saw flames start Wednesday afternoon on the north side then spread throughout the building.
As a volunteer for the American Red Cross and the Shiprock Authorized Local Emergency Response Team, Ellison helped with the road closure and warned residents to stay indoors.
"It was sad to see it burning. There's a lot of history behind this building," he said.
Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636.