NEWCOMB — Silver serving spoons laid on top of large, white containers that held food for the 250 firefighters stationed at the East Spike Camp at Newcomb's elementary and high schools.

Ten members of the Navajo Scouts Camp Crew completed prep work on Wednesday before firefighters working on the Assayii Lake Fire arrived for dinner. Crew members repeatedly said the word “béésh,” which means knife in the Navajo language, as they opened boxes to unveil the white containers with food.

A total of 841 personnel worked on the blaze Wednesday, including 24 crews, 27 engines, 10 helicopters and four dozers. As of Wednesday evening, the fire had burned 13,250 acres since starting on Friday in the Ch'ooshgai Mountains on the Navajo Nation. An update at 9 p.m. from the Southwest Area Incident Management Team 3 stated it was 5 percent contained and had moved minimally on Wednesday.

As of Wednesday night, the fire — fueled by piñon pine, juniper and brush — was about 10 miles northeast of Navajo. About 50 residences were threatened on Wednesday, and five structures have been destroyed. Lighter winds and aerial support allowed crews to construct dozer and hand lines along the fire's boundaries, helping with containment.

The public is asked to avoid traveling on access road leading to the Bowl Canyon Recreation Area. Road closures in the area include N.M. Highway 134 at Sheep Springs to Crystal Boarding School, Navajo Route 30 and Navajo Route 31 at Mexican Springs.

Back at the East Spike Camp, the food arrived at about 7 p.m., and the first fire crew followed at 7:30 p.m.

After arriving at the cafeteria, the firefighters immediately walked to the restrooms, cleaned up and then were served dinner.

Rhodina Tsosie, crew boss of the Hopi 1 Initial Attack team from Kykotsmovi Village, Ariz., arrived with the 20-man crew after working on the north side of the fire. Crews completed hot spot work, removing debris, chasing spot fires and putting in hand lines — a tool used to suppress the fire.

“It's pretty rough, thick terrain, a lot of dead and down vegetation,” Tsosie said, adding that what helped the crew was coming across areas that were prescribed burned in previous years.

With the crew working more than eight hours, they look forward to “a hot meal” and “a good place to sleep” at the end of the day, she said.

“Most of the guys, they call home and check on their families,” she said.

Wednesday evening's update from incident command stated Wednesday would be the final shift for firefighters. They are expected to monitor the fire along Road 8093.

Jared Thornburg, the engine boss with the Farmington Fire Department, is one of three fire personnel Farmington sent to fight the fire, along with one bush truck.

“Today's been better because the weather cooperated,” Thornburg said. “Less winds and a little bit cooler.”

The crew has been providing services since Monday, and they supported hot shot crews with water and worked on spot fires.

Both Tsosie and Thornburg said the firefighter crews appreciate the outpouring of support and donations from various communities.

A typical day for the 250 firefighters at the East Spike Camp starts at 5 a.m. and ends at 10 p.m., said Aaron Ernsberger, base camp manager with the Southwest Area Incident Management Team 3.

Many of the crews hail from Arizona's Blue Ridge, Mormon Lake, Hopi, Fort Apache, Globe and Phoenix and New Mexico's Acoma, Gila, San Juan and Farmington.

Breakfast and dinner are served inside Newcomb Elementary School, while sleeping accommodations are at Newcomb High School. Firefighters also receive sack lunches, and 20 gallons of coffee is typically brewed.

Two additional camps have been established — the Crystal Spike in Crystal and the Incident Command Post in Fort Defiance, Ariz.

Food is catered and then delivered from the incident command post. Among the items on Wednesday's dinner menu were chicken, potatoes, vegetables, tofu, dinner rolls and garbanzo stew. Beverages of iced tea, hot water and raspberry lemonade arrived in octagon-shaped cardboard containers.

Breakfast on Wednesday was sausage patties, eggs, potatoes and cream of wheat while Tuesday's main dish was tacos.


Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 and Follow her @nsmithdt on Twitter.