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Weaker winds aid firefighters battling Navajo reservation blaze

By Joseph J. Kolb

ALBUQUERQUE N.M. (Reuters) - Weaker winds on Thursday allowed firefighters to gain ground on a wildfire that has raged for seven days through parched pine woodlands and brush on a Navajo reservation in northwestern New Mexico, a state fire official said.

The wind-driven Assayii Lake fire has charred more than 13,000 acres (5,261 hectares) since it erupted last Friday in the Chuska Mountains, about six miles (10 km) east of the Arizona border, and spread eastward toward the communities of Sheep Springs and Naschitti.

"The winds have died down and that has helped substantially," said New Mexico fire information spokeswoman Lori Cook. The fire, which has raged largely unchecked, was 20 percent contained as of late on Thursday, she said.

More than 800 firefighters aided by helicopters dropping fire suppression chemicals have battled wind gusts up to 50 miles per hour which has fanned the fire.

"We had a lot of boots on the ground today and they were able to establish a containment line on the westside of the mountain stemming the spread (there)," Cook said.

Crews have sustained two minor injuries, Cook said. They have yet to assess the full extent of the damage to residences and grazing land, though nearly a dozen homes have been damaged.

Officials say the fire was likely caused by people. 

(Reporting by Joseph Kolb in Albuquerque, New Mexico; Writing by Eric M. Johnson Editing and Michael Perry)

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