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Raging Western Fires Burning 1M Acres
August 17, 2000 11:15 am EST

In A Day, Montana Fire Goes From Spark To 20,000 Acres

HELENA, MONT., AUG. 17, 2000 (CBS News) - Some 86 raging wildfires ripping through forest, brush and grass across the West have burned more than 1 million acres -- and show no signs of slowing.

On Wednesday, officials closed Yellowstone National Park's south entrance, people were evacuated from South Dakota's Black Hills and the danger even extended to Alaska.

So far this year, 4.9 million acres have burned nationwide, according to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho. That's more than double the ten-year average.

4,970,445, not including Hawaii
86 blazes covering more than 1 million acres in Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wyoming
National Interagency Fire Center, Associated Press, as of Aug. 16

Montana's 25 largest active fires accounted for nearly half of the total acreage currently burning, the agency said. This year, more than 2,000 fires have burned 457,000 acres statewide.

State officials Wednesday asked the federal government to send an additional 1,000 federal troops and a military radar plane to Montana to battle "a 100-year catastrophe."

The entire state was a disaster area under an order from Gov. Marc Racicot that took effect Thursday. It allows use of the National Guard anywhere in the state.

A wildfire between Helena and Bozeman exploded from a spark to a 20,000-acre inferno within 24 hours, drawing manpower from other fires in smoke-choked western Montana.

While the quarter-million acres of fires burning in the Bitterroot Valley made no major advances on Wednesday, a wildfire 12 miles west of Yellowstone National Park expanded to 3,500 acres.

A fire south of Helena triggered evacuations and burned some land owned by media magnate Ted Turner, who owns four bison ranches in Montana.

"There are a lot of people in this boat together," ranch manager Russ Miller said. "We have a lot of empathy for our neighbors who are affected by these fires. We also have a strong appreciation for the firefighters who are giving it their all."

A new wildfire near the Umatilla Indian Reservation in Oregon had burned 2,500 acres of grass, brush and timber by Wednesday, officials said. Flames shot up to 100 feet in the air in some timbered areas.

Elsewhere, 55 people were evacuated from the southern Black Hills, south of Hot Springs, S.D. A 7,000-acre blaze there was expected to be contained by Friday, said Forest Service spokesman Terry Padilla.

Wildfires roaming through Idaho's parched Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness have prompted the U.S. Forest Service to close the renowned Middle Fork of the Salmon River to rafters and kayakers.

And in Alaska, the National Weather Service has issued a "red flag warning," its most severe fire warning, for the Kenai Peninsula and Kodiak Island.

CBS News Correspondent Jim Axelrod reports outnumbered firefighters are coating buildings with a man-made spray-on gel. How it will protect the buildings remains to be seen.

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