Praying for Dzil Ligai: Largest Fire in Arizona History Threatens White Mountain Apache Homelands

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 On June 5, the fire was raging out of control as it entered Apache land on the White Mountain and San Carlos reservations. As of Wednesday, it had consumed more than 12,909 acres of forest belonging to the White Mountain Apaches and was five miles from the tribe's economic heartbeat, the Sunrise Ski Resort.

More than 160 wildland firefighters have kept the fire at bay by creating a buffer of cleared land using bulldozers, handsaws and other hand tools. They also have created a similar buffer between the fire and Dzil Ligai (White Mountain), known in English as Mount Baldy.

Ramon Riley, White Mountain Apache cultural resource director, said June 10 that the tribal elders don't want the Wallow Fire to enter Dzil Ligai because it's a holy place.

Riley, who is Roadrunner Clan born for Eagle Clan, said he didn't use the word "sacred" to describe it, because that's the word white people use for the White Mountain Apaches' holy places. He also emphasized that the correct name for Mount Baldy is Dzil Ligai. At 11,420 feet, it is the highest point on the 1.6 million-acre White Mountain Apache Reservation.

Nearly a third of that, about 475,000 acres in the western part of their reservation, was consumed by the 2002 Rodeo-Chediski fire, until now the largest wildland fire in state history.

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