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Navajo fire crews may get wind relief

| Thursday, June 19, 2014, 12:01 a.m.
This June 17, 2014 handout photo provided by the Navajo Times shows the Asaayii Lake Fire raging out of control at the ridge of the Chuska Mountains, west of Naschitti, N.M. Tribal agriculture officials say depending on the fire's intesity, it could be a while before sheepherders and cattle ranchers get to return to the hills outside of Naschitti and Sheep Springs. (AP Photo/Navajo Times, Donovan Quintero)

ALBUQUERQUE — As summer approaches, relief is in sight for drought-stricken New Mexico and many other parts of the West as Mother Nature appears ready to ease up on her back-to-back blows of stifling heat and gusty winds.

A break in the unfavorable weather can't come soon enough for the hundreds of firefighters battling a blaze on the Navajo Nation that has consumed more than 20 square miles of pinon and juniper forest along with grazing lands that tribal livestock owners have used for centuries.

The Assayii Lake fire has destroyed at least four structures. Another 50 homes near the rural communities of Naschitti and Sheep Springs were threatened, with some in Naschitti evacuated.

Forecasters with the National Weather Service said storms moving across the Southwest have helped raise humidity levels, and the winds are expected to die down by Thursday, giving firefighters the window needed to directly attack the flames.

“What we saw over the past three or four days will basically end tomorrow. No more wind,” meteorologist Chuck Maxwell said Wednesday.

Despite the variability in the weather and drought, the fire season has been relatively slow across the U.S., according to the National Interagency Fire Center in Idaho. The number of acres burned so far this year is half of the 10-year average, and there have been fewer large fires. In the Southwest, the acreage burned is only 46 percent of average.

“The reason the Southwest is below average is because it had a late start to its fire season,” said Robyn Broyles with the interagency fire center. “There was a lot of moisture throughout the spring for both New Mexico and Arizona. They're actually having a less severe fire season.”

Nine large fires are burning across the country, including the Navajo blaze.

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