Navajo Nation residents maintain hope, evacuate due to Wood Springs 2 fire

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times
Sisters Harriette Leuppe, left, and Darlene Leuppe talk about the smoke plume from the Wood Springs 2 fire, which they can see from their residences in Kinlichee Chapter on June 29.

NAZLINI, Arizona — Judy Donaldson sat in her vehicle on June 29 and watched the large smoke plume rise from the Wood Springs 2 fire, located several miles northeast of the lookout point.

"Right in that area, where the white smoke is, that's our summer camp," said Donaldson, who is a local resident.

Sitting in the passenger seat was her mother, Ruth Brenner, who used to herd sheep from the Nazlini community area to the family's camp on Defiance Plateau, where the fire is located three miles east of Wood Springs, Arizona and five miles from Sawmill, Arizona.

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"I hope nothing is burning," the 86-year-old Brenner said.

"We got our fingers crossed and we're hoping," Donaldson said. "We're hoping for the hogan and corrals. I mean, that's our summer home. We've had sheep, we've had horses up there. I'm thinking of all the memories that is going up in smoke right now."

Those memories include her sister having her Kinaaldá, the traditional womanhood ceremony, at the summer camp and her son learning to wooly ride, an activity where children are placed on top of a sheep to ride.

Rangers from the Navajo Department of Fish and Wildlife manage a roadblock on Navajo Route 7 in Sawmill, Arizona on June 29. Smoke from the Wood Springs 2 fire is pictured in the background.

The mother and daughter were not alone at the lookout point alongside Navajo Route 27, several residents parked there as well to watch the fire, which started on June 27.

Shifting smoke plume

A long smoke plume from the fire, which was caused by lightning, was impacting air quality in San Juan County the morning of June 30, according to the tracking map managed by the U.S. Forest Service's Interagency Wildland Fire Air Quality Response Program. An afternoon projection showed the pall shifting to the west toward Albuquerque.

The fire has grown to 5,816 acres with no containment as of June 30, according to the Southwest Area Incident Management Team 5, which took command of the fire on Tuesday.

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Incident Commander Mark Bernal said on June 30 that the high wind has subsided, and it is not pushing the fire.

"We're hoping to have a very productive day today. We are getting additional crews and resources," Bernal said in his report during an online town hall meeting arranged by the Navajo Nation Office of the President and Vice President.

An air tanker drops fire retardant on the Wood Springs 2 fire, burning east of Nazlini, Arizona, on June 29.

The communities of Sawmill and Fluted Rock are on high alert, with some residents receiving evacuation notices.

Along Fluted Rock Road in Kinlichee Chapter, family members and friends were helping to evacuate Nelson Benally and his large herd of sheep and goats from the family summer camp that is situated among piñon juniper and pine vegetation.

Mary Blackmountain arrived at her brother's camp on June 28 after a nephew told her that Benally refused to leave.

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"I talked with him. I said, 'you can't stay here.' The ranger and the police, they came, and they told us to leave, so we started herding sheep down this way," Blackmountain said.

The family guided the sheep and goats by foot before settling at a spot to wait for additional family members to bring livestock trailers then transport the animals from the forest to the flatland in Kinlichee.

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

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