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Fire burns 37 acres in Shiprock

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times
Navajo Nation Firefighter Eric Trevizo talks about the brush fire he and his crew battled on Sunday evening in Shiprock during an interview on Monday, Dec. 4, 2017.

OJO AMARILLO — Four firefighters from the Navajo Nation Fire Department station here were first to respond to a raging wildland fire that burned 37 acres Sunday in Shiprock.

They battled the blaze for three hours before reinforcements arrived.

A 24-member crew from the Bureau of Indian Affairs Wildland Fire Management in Fort Defiance, Ariz. continued clean up activity Monday afternoon.

No structures were lost or injuries reported, according to fire personnel.

Ojo Amarillo Fire Department Lt. Jeff Holtsoi said tribal police dispatch in Shiprock received information about the fire near the San Juan River bridge at about 6:35 p.m. Sunday.

Holtsoi said he responded to the scene about 10 minutes later and started the initial attack, but wind speeds spread flames eastbound alongside the river.

A Bureau of Indian Affairs Wildland Fire Management vehicle is parked in an area on Monday, Dec. 4, 2017 as crews work to secure the scene of a brush fire that occurred on Sunday evening in Shiprock.

Wind speeds were up to 15 mph at about 6:30 p.m. Sunday at the Four Corners Regional Airport in Farmington, according to the National Weather Service in Albuquerque.

Firefighter Eric Trevizo said Monday he was the second firefighter to respond and started a foot patrol on the south side of the river.

Holtsoi and Trevizo used hand tools to combat the fire while another firefighter stationed an engine on the north side of the river because fire embers blew across the river and into a residential area.

The fourth firefighter was stationed with a brush truck nearby but soggy conditions made travel difficult.

Both men said a decision was made to evacuate the nearby residential area with help from tribal police after the fire jumped a second time.

Members of the Bureau of Indian Affairs Wildland Fire Management from Fort Defiance, Ariz. work on Monday, Dec. 4, 2017 at the scene of a fire in Shiprock.

Trevizo said BIA Wildland Fire Management in Shiprock and in Fort Defiance, Ariz. were notified but could not be reached immediately, and when personnel were eventually reached, it was a two hour wait before they could arrive.

Johnson Benallie, assistance fire management for BIA Wildland Fire in Fort Defiance, was unavailable for comment Monday.

The small crew also requested mutual aid from San Juan County Fire Department but, due to policy, the department could not immediately respond because they needed authorization paperwork from BIA.

"And at that time, we knew it was us, us four," Trevizo said.

Navajo Nation Fire Department Lt. Jeff Holtsoi and firefighter Eric Trevizo talk about a brush fire they battled during an interview on Monday, Dec. 4, 2017 at the Ojo Amarillo fire station south of Farmington.

San Juan County Fire Chief Craig Daugherty said Monday that historically the county had joint jurisdiction with the tribe.

When the tribe took complete jurisdiction, they took responsibility over areas like Hogback and Newcomb, but for requests to respond to wildlife fires the department needs a resource order from BIA Wildland Fire Management.

"We basically had to wait for BIA to authorize a response," Daugherty said.

Members of the Bureau of Indian Affairs Wildland Fire Management from Fort Defiance, Ariz. work on Monday, Dec. 4, 2017. Crews continue to work the scene of a brush fire that occurred on Sunday evening in Shiprock.

He added a request arrived at about 9:30 p.m. and the department responded with one brush truck and three firefighters from the District 1 station in Kirtland.

"It's frustrating to us because we're used to helping and want to help out but our hands are tied," Daugherty said.

Holtsoi said fire personnel received help from the tribe's police department and emergency medical services, and some residents used garden hoses to protect homes.

"The firefighters that we had on scene, they did a good job," Holtsoi said.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.