Fire destroys old Bureau of Indian Affairs hospital in Shiprock

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times

SHIPROCK — A fire that started the night of Dec. 6 destroyed an unoccupied building owned by the Bureau of Indian Affairs here.

The fire was reported at about 9:30 p.m., according to Navajo Nation Fire Department Firefighter Derrick Woody.

Woody said he was first to arrive on scene followed by firefighters from the department's stations in Shiprock, Ojo Amarillo and Newcomb as well as San Juan County Fire & Rescue.

Flames were visible at the main entrance to the single-story building with a basement, but the fire increased when air entered the building, Woody explained.

The structure is a total loss and the cause of the fire remains under investigation, he said.

Fire burns the old Bureau of Indian Affairs hospital on Dec. 6 in Shiprock.

San Juan County Fire & Rescue aided with personnel and equipment and were dispatched at about 10 p.m., according to county spokesman Devin Neeley.

Firefighters from the tribe's fire department were still on scene the morning of Dec. 7 to extinguish hotspots and mop-up.

Throughout the morning, community members drove by the burned structure, with some stopping to take photos.

Several residents said the building was an old hospital operated by the BIA. When The Daily Times visited the building in July, a sign posted at the main entrance stated, "Shiprock Agency Office."

A firefighter from the Navajo Nation Fire Department’s Shiprock station works on a hotspot on Dec. 7. The fire destroyed the old Bureau of Indian Affairs hospital in Shiprock.

This is not the only time fire activity has destroyed or heavily damaged buildings owned by the BIA in this area known as the Shiprock Administrative Reserve located near the intersection of U.S. highways 64 and 491.

The property is 37.8 acres and has been developed by the BIA since 1903, according to The Daily Times archives.

Navajo Nation Council Delegate Eugenia Charles-Newton, who represents Shiprock Chapter, sponsored a bill this year that called for support to secure federal money to demolish dilapidated buildings in the area. The Naa'bik'íyáti' Committee passed the legislation on Aug. 12.

According to the bill, the BIA had built a hospital, school, administrative facilities, offices, service buildings, warehouses and residential quarters at the location.

The charred remains of a swamp cooler was among debris left after a fire was extinguished on Dec. 7 at the old Bureau of Indian Affairs hospital in Shiprock.

The agency has taken legal responsibility throughout the years to remediate some of the land and demolish some structures, the bill stated.

Shiprock Chapter wants to use the property for economic development. Plans include constructing a hotel and visitor center.

The structure fire is the latest to occur in the community. Last week, a wildfire along the San Juan River near the water treatment plant burned 34 acres.

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San Juan County Fire & Rescue assisted the Navajo Nation Fire Department in responding to a fire on Dec. 6 at the old Bureau of Indian Affairs hospital in Shiprock.

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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