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An autopsy confirms that a 13-year-old girl was killed by a pack of dogs while taking a walk near her family’s home on the Navajo NationBy FELICIA FONSECA Associated PressJuly 14, 2021, 2:33 PM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleFLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — An autopsy has confirmed that a 13-year-old girl was killed by pack of dogs while taking a walk near her family’s home on the Navajo Nation.Lyssa Rose Upshaw had extensive injuries that were consistent with canine teeth marks, including cuts and abrasions on her neck and head and deep soft tissue wounds on her legs. Her clothes were torn, and she was covered in dirt, according to the autopsy released this week in response to a public records request from The Associated Press.While her mother, Marissa Jones, suspected dogs since she saw her daughter curled up off a dirt trail in Fort Defiance in mid-May, she had been awaiting an official cause.“I never thought that would ever happen to my daughter,” she said. “She was a dog lover.”The medical examiner’s office in Coconino County classified Upshaw’s death as accidental. The deadly attack has renewed discussion across the reservation about how to hold people accountable for their pets.Tribal lawmakers recently passed a resolution to establish criminal penalties. Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez vetoed it, saying it didn’t go far enough and needs more input.At least a handful of deaths on the Navajo Nation over the years have been blamed on dog packs, and numerous other people have been injured. None of the tribe’s animal control laws, which are considered civil offenses, holds dog owners responsible for deaths.Michael Henderson, the tribe’s criminal investigations director, said tribal charges are being considered in Upshaw’s death as authorities gather more evidence and await results for specimens collected from the dogs that belonged to a neighbor.“The case is pretty far from being closed, far from being just put aside as an accident or a civil matter or anything like that,” he said. “We’re still very aggressively pursuing to understand the case to the extent to where if there are any criminal elements attached to what happened.”The FBI is conducting some of the lab testing. Henderson said he has spoken with federal prosecutors whose initial response was that the case is not one that could be charged under a limited set of crimes for which the federal government has jurisdiction on tribal land.Tribes have concurrent jurisdiction but often seek federal charges because they carry much stiffer penalties than under tribal law. The maximum time in jail that the Navajo Nation could impose for any crime, regardless of the severity, is one year.Esther Winne, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Arizona, couldn’t say whether Upshaw’s case has been referred to federal prosecutors. The FBI did not respond to a message from the AP.Jones said her “baby girl” who had aspirations of running on the high school cross country team deserved more compassion and sympathy from the neighbors who owned the dogs and more attention from investigators on the case.She has been pushing for jail time and fines for whoever is found responsible, though Henderson acknowledged there’s not a clear path.“I’m hoping and I’m praying for my daughter to get her justice,” Jones said.
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — For thousands of years, an Arizona tribe relied on the Colorado River’s natural flooding patterns to farm. Later, it hand-dug ditches and canals to route water to fields.Now, gravity sends the river water from the north end of the Colorado River Indian Tribes reservation through 19th century canals to sustain alfalfa, cotton, wheat, onions and potatoes, mainly by flooding the fields.Some of those fields haven’t been producing lately as the tribe contributes water to prop up Lake Mead to help weather a historic drought in the American West. The reservoir serves as a barometer for how much water Arizona and other states will get under plans to protect the river serving 40 million people.The Colorado River Indian Tribes and another tribe in Arizona played an outsized role in the drought contingency plans that had the state voluntarily give up water. As Arizona faces mandatory cuts next year in its Colorado River supply, the tribes see themselves as major players in the future of water.“We were always told more or less what to do, and so now it’s taking shape where tribes have been involved and invited to the table to do negotiations, to have input into the issues about the river,” first-term Colorado River Indian Tribes Chairwoman Amelia Flores said.Lake Mead on the Nevada-Arizona border has fallen to its lowest point since it was filled in the 1930s. Water experts say the situation would be worse had the tribe not agreed to store 150,000 acre-feet in the lake over three years. A single acre-foot is enough to serve one to two households per year. The Gila River Indian Community also contributed water.The Colorado River Indian Tribes received $38 million in return, including $30 million from the state. Environmentalists, foundations and corporations fulfilled a pledge last month to chip in the rest.Kevin Moran of the Environmental Defense Fund said the agreement signaled a new approach to combating drought, climate change and the demand from the river.“The way we look at it, the Colorado River basin is ground zero for water-related impacts of climate change,” he said. “And we have to plan for the river and the watersheds that climate scientists tell us we’re probably going to have, not the one we might wish for.”Tribal officials say the $38 million is more than what they would have made leasing the land. The Colorado River Indian Tribes stopped farming more than 15 square miles (39 square kilometers) to make water available, tribal attorney Margaret Vick said.“There’s an economic tradeoff as well as a conservation tradeoff,” she said.While some fields are dry on the reservation, the tribe plans to use the money to invest in its water infrastructure. It has the oldest irrigation system built by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, dating to 1867, serving nearly 125 square miles (323 square kilometers) of tribal land.The age of the irrigation system means it’s in constant need of improvements. Flores, the tribal chairwoman, said some parts of the 232-mile (373-kilometer) concrete and earthen canal are lined and others aren’t, so water is lost through seepage or cracks.A 2016 study conducted by the tribe put the price tag to fix deficiencies at more than $75 million. It’s leveraging grants, funding from previous conservation efforts and other money to put a dent in the repairs, Flores said.“If we had all the dollars in the world to line all the canals that run through our reservation, that would be a great project to complete,” Flores said. “I don’t think that’s going to happen in our lifetime.”The tribe is made up of four distinct groups of Native Americans — Chemehuevi, Mohave, Hopi and Navajo. The reservation includes more than 110 miles (177 kilometers) of Colorado River shoreline with some of the oldest and most secure rights to the river in both Arizona and California.While much of the water goes to farming, it also sustains wildlife preserves and the tribe’s culture.“We can’t forget about the spiritual, the cultural aspect to the tribes on the Colorado River,” Flores said. “Our songs, clan songs, river and other traditional rites that happen at the river.”The tribe can’t take full advantage of its right to divert 662,000 acre-feet per year from the Colorado River on the Arizona side because it lacks the infrastructure. It also has water rights in California.An additional 46 square miles (121 square kilometers) of land could be developed for agriculture if the tribe had the infrastructure, according to a 2018 study on water use and development among tribes in the Colorado River basin.“One day,” Flores said. “That’s the goal of our leaders who have come behind me, to use all of our water allocation and develop our lands that right now are not developed.”———Fonseca is a member of The Associated Press’ race and ethnicity team. Follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/FonsecaAP.
Five people have died after a hot air balloon they were riding in crashed on a busy city street in New MexicoBy FELICIA FONSECA Associated PressJune 26, 2021, 10:24 PM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A hot air balloon hit a power line and crashed onto a busy street in Albuquerque on Saturday, killing all five people on board, including the parents of an Albuquerque police officer, police said.The crash happened around 7 a.m. in the city’s west side, police spokesman Gilbert Gallegos said. Police identified two of the passengers as Martin Martinez, 59, and Mary Martinez, 62 — the parents of a prison transport officer with the Albuquerque Police Department.Police did not immediately release the others’ names but said the male pilot, and a female and male passenger were from central New Mexico.Martin Martinez also had worked for Albuquerque police on bicycle patrol but more recently worked for the local school district, authorities said. Some Albuquerque officers who responded to the crash had worked with him and were sent home because it took a toll on them, said police Chief Harold Medina.“It really emphasized the point that no matter how big we think we are, we’re still a tightknit community and incidents like this affect us all,” Medina said.The intersection where the balloon crashed was still cordoned off late Saturday afternoon. The multi-colored balloon had skirted the top of the power lines, sending at least one dangling and temporarily knocking out power to more than 13,000 homes, said police spokesman Gilbert Gallegos.The gondola fell about 100 feet (30 meters) and crashed in the street’s median, catching on fire, the Federal Aviation Administration said. Bystanders frantically called out for a fire extinguisher to put out the flames and prayed aloud, video posted online showed.The envelope of the balloon floated away, eventually landing on a residential rooftop, Gallegos said. The FAA did not immediately have registration details for the balloon but identified it as a Cameron 0-120.Authorities haven’t determined what caused the crash. The National Transportation Safety Board sent two investigators to the scene Saturday who will look into the pilot, the balloon itself and the operating environment, said spokesman Peter Knudson. A preliminary report typically is available in a couple of weeks.Gallegos said hot air balloons can be difficult to manage, particularly when the wind kicks up.“Our balloonists tend to be very much experts at navigating, but sometimes we have these types of tragic accidents,” he said.Albuquerque is a mecca for hot air ballooning. The city hosts a nine-day event in October that draws hundreds of thousands of spectators and pilots from around the world. It is one of the most photographed events globally.Albuquerque-area residents are treated to colorful displays of balloons floating over homes and along the Rio Grande throughout the year. While accidents aren’t common, they happen.“This is a tragedy that is uniquely felt and hits uniquely hard at home here in Albuquerque and in the ballooning community,” said Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller.Since 2008, there have been 12 fatal hot air ballooning accidents in the United States, according to an NTSB database. Two of those happed in Rio Rancho just outside Albuquerque, including one in January where a passenger who was ejected from the gondola after a hard landing died from his injuries.In 2016 in neighboring Texas, a hot air balloon hit high-tension power lines before crashing into a pasture in the central part of the state. All 16 people on board died. Federal authorities said at the time it was the worst such disaster in U.S. history.
National forests in Arizona are the go-to spots in the summer as people look to escape sweltering desert temperaturesBy FELICIA FONSECA Associated PressJune 24, 2021, 12:40 AM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleFLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — When temperatures are sweltering in Arizona’s desert areas, people head to the forests to camp, hike, fish and just cool off.But options for finding respite from the heat will be slim now that all but one of Arizona’s national forests are enacting broad shutdowns amid high fire danger and as firefighting resources run thin with blazes already burning across the state.Portions of forests in other western states also are off-limits. But the shutdowns in Arizona are the most widespread and, by Friday, will include land owned and managed by the state.Kathy Howard set out for a hike in Sedona on Wednesday a couple of hours before the Coconino National Forest closure went into effect. She crossed a creek where she enjoys listening to water gently roll over the rocks, turned right and was greeted with caution tape.Her plans were dashed.“I have to say I’m glad that they did close the forest because we don’t want to lose our trees and all the flora and fauna out there,” said Howard, who splits her time between Scottsdale and Santa Fe, New Mexico.Arizona has been a hotbed for wildfires so far this year, with more large fires burning than in any other state and across all terrain. The fires have forced rural residents from their homes and sent motorists on sometimes lengthy detours.Firefighters got help Wednesday with cooler weather and the hope of rain, however short-lived it might be with a warming trend in the forecast later this week. Still, they were on alert for thunderstorms that could produce lightning and touch off more blazes.The Coconino and Kaibab national forests in northern Arizona closed Wednesday. Apache-Sitgreaves, Prescott and Tonto were set to close later this week. Tonto near Phoenix will leave most of its lakes open for recreation.A previous, full closure of the Coconino forest 2006 lasted nine days. A 2002 shutdown lasted nine weeks, encompassing the Memorial Day and July 4 holidays.There’s no telling when the latest closures, which don’t affect state or national parks, will be rescinded.“We know the public wants to get outside,” said Tiffany Davila, spokeswoman for the state Department of Forestry and Fire Management. “But it comes down to public and firefighter safety and making sure we can get people to the next incident, if and when it occurs.”Coconino forest employees were scattered throughout the forest Wednesday, letting campers, hikers and locals know about the closure, posting signs and providing information on social services to people who regularly camp in the forest.Keith Buchli drove to Flagstaff from Scottsdale to escape the heat, knowing the forest would be closed, but checked some roads just in case. Instead of his planned mountain bike ride, he rode on the highway shoulder. Exercise is exercise, he said.“It’s so much nicer here,” he said. “I just love getting out into the woods.”Nearby, the road that leads to a ski resort that operates a scenic chairlift in the summer also was closed.To the southwest in Prescott, a summer camp for kids will have to nix horseback riding and camping in the nearby forest. Kevin Nissen, co-director of Friendly Pines, said the camp has plenty of room on its own property for other activities.“Hopefully the rains will come and this will all get lifted,” he said.Beyond inconveniencing campers and hikers, the forest closures are felt by businesses that rely on tourists, hunters, ranchers and researchers who can’t conduct studies. Forest thinning also could be delayed.
An Ohio resident on a backpacking trip at the Grand Canyon has died of a suspected heat-related illnessBy FELICIA FONSECA Associated PressJune 21, 2021, 9:43 PM• 2 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleFLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — An Ohio resident on a backpacking trip at the Grand Canyon has died of suspected heat-related illness amid a heat wave in the U.S. West, park officials said Monday.Michelle Meder, 53, was among a group of five who made it halfway into the canyon Saturday when she became disoriented and later unconscious. The group split, with three hiking farther into the canyon and flagging down a commercial rafting group that called park rangers via satellite phone, said Grand Canyon National Park spokeswoman Joelle Baird.Rangers weren’t able to respond until the following day and found Meder dead. The rocky, strenuous trail has little shade and no water sources aside from some small creeks, Baird said.Investigators at the Grand Canyon are working with the local medical examiner’s office to determine an exact cause of death for Meder, who lived in Hudson, Ohio.Hiking at the Grand Canyon can be deceiving. The temperature at the South Rim, where 90% of all visitors go, is about 20 degrees cooler than at the bottom. The temperature at Phantom Ranch along the Colorado River hit 115 degrees (46 Celsius) on Sunday, tying the previous daily record. A similar temperature was expected Monday.“It catches a lot of hikers, tourists coming in from out of the area off guard,” said Andrew Taylor, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Flagstaff. “And it’s very dry.”The weather will be slightly cooler over the next couple of days before another warming trend, Taylor said.Baird said the Grand Canyon has seen an uptick in heat-related illness lately. The park recommends inner-canyon hikers start early, and if they’re out on the trail while the sun is blazing overhead, that they find some shade and wait.“It’s just very unforgiving this time of year, even people who are acclimated, and fit and in shape,” she said. “They struggle. It can be really hard to thermal regulate if you’re not used to hiking in these elements, and you’re not getting proper nutrition and hydration.”On Sunday, park rangers responded to a hiker who drank too much water and hadn’t consumed enough sodium, known as hyponatremia, Baird said. The condition can lead to seizures, coma or even death.
Dozens of wildfires are burning in hot, dry conditions across the U.S. West, including a blaze touched off by lightning that was moving toward northern Arizona’s largest cityBy FELICIA FONSECA Associated PressJune 22, 2021, 12:00 AM• 4 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleFLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — Dozens of wildfires were burning in hot, dry conditions across the U.S. West, including a blaze touched off by lightning that was moving toward northern Arizona’s largest city.The mountainous city of Flagstaff was shrouded in smoke Monday, and ash was falling from the sky. The national forest surrounding it announced a full closure set to begin later this week — the first time that has happened since 2006.Intense heat that has hampered firefighting efforts more broadly was expected to moderate in the coming days. But, the National Weather Service noted it could bring uncertainty for fire crews.“The humidity and the possibility of some scattered rainfall is a good thing,” said meteorologist Andrew Taylor. “The lightning is not a good thing.”In California, firefighters still faced the difficult task of trying to contain a large forest fire in rugged coastal mountains south of Big Sur that forced the evacuation of a Buddhist monastery and nearby campground.In New Mexico, lightning-sparked blazes have been scorching the southern part of the state where a large portion of the Gila Wilderness remains closed, and fire officials are closely watching the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument.More land has burned across Arizona so far to date with new wildfire starts quickly shifting resources. While humans are to blame for an overwhelming majority of wildfires, lightning started a 31-square mile (80-square kilometer) blaze west of Sedona that was moving toward Flagstaff.A top-tier management team had been ordered to oversee the blaze that’s burning in grass, juniper, chaparral and ponderosa pine.Some campers already evacuated, and residents of rural areas have been told to prepare to evacuate on a moment’s notice, said Coconino County sheriff’s spokesman Jon Paxton.If the fire continues its northeastern push, hundreds of people in Flagstaff — a college city about two hours north of Phoenix — also could be impacted, Paxton said.Fire officials were mapping out a plan to starve the Rafael Fire of fuel as it moves through rugged terrain, canyons and wilderness, said fire information officer Dolores Garcia.As of Monday, it was moving parallel to Interstate 40 along the Coconino and Yavapai county lines. The fire was about 16 miles from Flagstaff, but it’s hard to say how quickly it was spreading through various terrain, Garcia said.Two national forests in northern Arizona made rare announcements to close completely to visitors starting Wednesday because of concerns they won’t have enough resources to respond to any future wildfires.“We have limited resources, and we’re tapped right now,” said Brady Smith, a spokesman for the Coconino National Forest that surrounds Flagstaff.The Coconino last issued a full closure in 2006. The nearby Kaibab National Forest, which borders the Grand Canyon, last fully closed in 2002. Both forests are popular for hiking, camping, fishing and other recreation because they sit at higher elevations and are much cooler than the state’s desert areas.Arizona is at the highest level of preparedness for wildfires. Evacuations were in place for fires west of Phoenix, northeast of Tucson and near Heber. Some local roads also were closed.A top-tier management team was overseeing a blaze near the communities of Pine and Strawberry where residents also were evacuated. The fire has burned among the treetops, with wind carrying flames far ahead.Firefighting crews have yet to contain any of the wildfire’s perimeter. The lightning-sparked blaze was estimated at 51 square miles (132 square kilometers) Monday.Firefighters in Oregon were focused on two wildfires, one burning near the state’s highest peak and another in the southern part of the state that was threatening 125 structures.In Utah, several wildfires were burning in bone-dry conditions. The largest near the small town of Enterprise in southern Utah forced evacuations over the weekend. But homeowners were allowed to return as containment reached 50%. ———Associated Press writer John Antczak in Los Angeles and Andrew Selsky in Salem, Oregon, contributed to this report.