FARMINGTON – The Wood Springs Two Fire on the Navajo Nation had grown to more than 10,000 acres and prompted a public health advisory this week.
The Navajo Department of Health and Navajo Environmental Protection Agency issued a smoke advisory Wednesday, saying the fire was affecting the surrounding communities of Wood Springs, Fluted Springs and Sawmill, in addition to several towns to the north and east.
The lightning-caused fire was first reported Saturday, according to Bureau of Indian Affairs Navajo Region Fire Management. Southwest Incident Management Team 5 took over command of the fire early Tuesday morning.
As of Thursday, it had burned 10,694 acres and was 5% contained, according to a report from the Southwest Incident Management Team. There were 384 personnel fighting the blaze, with crews burning along Navajo Route 7 to prevent the fire from crossing the road to the east.
The public health advisory warned the smoke could cause coughing; dry, scratchy throat; and irritated sinuses and eyes. The elderly, children, pregnant women and people with heart or lung diseases are considered at higher risk for the effects of wildfire smoke. Residents are advised to reduce outdoor exercise and keep windows and doors closed, and if they experience breathing issues, contact the nearest health facility.
“COVID-19 patients may experience worsened symptoms and outcomes if precautions are not considered,” the health agency warned.
The effects of wildfire smoke on COVID-19 patients is particularly concerning for the Navajo Nation, which has seen high rates of the virus. As of Tuesday, the total number of coronavirus cases on the Nation was 7,613 out of more than 50,000 completed tests, according to the Navajo Department of Health and partner agencies. There were 369 coronavirus-related deaths.
With cases increasing in neighboring states like Arizona, the Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez also announced a return of the 57-hour weekend curfews.
The communities of Sawmill and Fluted Rock were also advised to be on high alert this week because of the fire. Residents were told to begin collecting important items and to be ready to evacuate to a shelter. The Nation has yet to release a plan on what coronavirus precautions will be in place at an evacuation shelter.
The Interagency Wildland Fire Air Quality Response Program said smoke was expected to travel east and northeast Wednesday and Thursday. It listed Farmington as having light impacts from the smoke, advising sensitive people to avoid prolonged exposure or heavy exertion outside.
On Monday, the fire caused hazy skies as far north as Durango as a result of high winds.
The blaze grew in size from 300 acres Sunday to more than 3,000 on Monday, aided by 40- to 50-mph winds out of the southwest. By Tuesday, the factors contributing to the fires had changed, as the winds died down to 15 mph. The steep topography and the dry piñon juniper, ponderosa pine and sage have fueled the fire’s growth in recent days.
There have been reports of damaged structures but no total has been confirmed.