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Flames leap skywards as wildfires in the American West burn uncontrolled, with the state of Montana suffering the worst effects of the inferno
Photograph: STEVEN K DOI / AP

Wildfires 'may rage on till October'


ANOTHER 500 troops will join a battalion of 1,000 exhausted American Marines and soldiers today who are tackling record forest wildfires raging across the American West, alongside regular firefighters from all around the United States and Canada.

His men trained for amphibious landings on foreign shores, Colonel William Mark, the Marines' commander, was in gung-ho mood as they fought a battle closer to home. "They are good old Marine Corps muscle and they will bust their butts for the mission," he said.

With only brief training, the rapidly recruited troops were soon hiking at altitudes up to 9,000ft in Idaho's Payette National Forest, in air filled with smoke and temperatures in the high 90s. Each wore heavy jackets and helmets and had to lug packs and firefighting shovels.

Moving at three miles an hour in steep terrain, each man was carrying 45lb. Eyes were bloodshot, feet blistered and faces grimy. Staff Sergeant Ian Campbell said with a smile: "The desert in Kuwait was not hard compared to this place."


Sergeant Brad Rhoden described the hiking as far more difficult than in Bosnia and the conditions even worse. "This has nothing to do with what I trained for, but I am here because my country needs me," he said.

President Clinton will fly to inspect some of the worst affected places in Idaho and Montana tomorrow. He will speak to troops on the fire lines and to civilian fire crews. "He wants to let the firefighters know how much the country appreciates what they are doing," Joe Lockhart, the White House spokesman, said. But he did not know whether the President would announce additional aid.

The fires are the worst for 50 years. An astonishing 62,000 wildfires have been reported in the United States this year, the result of widespread drought and abetted by "dry" lightning. Columns of smoke and scenes of fatigued firefighters have become a staple of television news.

Fires have been sprouting up more quickly than crews can contain them. The National Interagency Fire Centre in Iowa reported 35 large wildfires last Tuesday; by Friday the number had jumped to 70. So far, 3.76 million acres have been scorched. Some fires burn almost harmlessly, but shifts of wind or humidity can turn them perilous.

Nor will the crisis be over soon. It could be late autumn before all the flames are out in Idaho, according to Dirk Kempthorne, the Governor.

"Conditions will only worsen," he said. "We are still in for a long summer and we will not extinguish some of these fires until the snows of October or November knock them out."

Some homes have been burnt and a helicopter crash in Nevada killed a crew member and injured three others.

One fire was in Mesa Verde National Park, the nation's largest archaeological preserve, but was not threatening ancient American Indian cliff dwellings which have no vegetation around them. The fire sprang up just 12 hours after the park had reopened after an earlier blaze had been extinguished.

A spokeswoman at the National Fire Centre said the Northern Rockies were the hottest place in the country, with dozens of blazes making Montana a leading hot spot on the West's fire map. Sixteen large fires have burned in the state.

In California, eight new fires scorched nearly 90,000 acres. The largest was 72,000 acres in the Sequoia National Forest, 150 miles northeast of Los Angeles. It was about 80 per cent contained.

Mike Dombeck, head of the US Forest Service, summed up the battle: "We're really at the mercy of Mother Nature."



Big Forest Fire Rages in Spain for Second Day
The Associated Press
MADRID, Spain (AP) - After working nonstop for 24 hours, firefighters brought under control Monday a fire that charred miles of forests in northeast Spain and forced hundreds out of their homes.
Morning winds gusting at 40 mph fanned the flames in Gerona province, north of Barcelona on the boarder with France, thwarting the work of 300 firefighters using planes, hoses and shovels to battle one of the worst fires in Spain this summer.
Pomes said that the fire had charred more than 9 square miles of the Cabo de Creus national park and 1 1/2 square miles of the L'Albera national park.
Firefighters were also able to control a front that had been advancing east toward Cadaques, a Mediterranean coastal town famous for being the birthplace of surrealist painter Salvador Dali.
Officials said the fire started Sunday, apparently when someone set fire to a pile of scrubwood.
An estimated 2,500 people were evacuated but most had returned to their homes Monday.
The rail line linking Spain and France was cut off briefly, but was reopened Monday, the Catalan emergency coordination center said.


Montana Officials Warn of Further Fire Evacuations
By Shannon Dininny
Associated Press Writer
HAMILTON, Mont. (AP) - Authorities warned Montana residents Monday to follow evacuation orders as fires continued to ravage western states, destroying dozens of buildings and forcing hundreds of people from their homes.
Ravalli County Sheriff Perry Johnson expected further evacuations as a result of the state's 19 major fires that burned about 167,000 acres and 50 buildings in Montana's scenic Bitterroot Valley, he said.  Johnson told people to move livestock and prepare to get out.
"If you choose may stay there forever," Johnson said.
The National Interagency Fire Center in Idaho said 65 major fires were burning more than 826,800 acres, an area larger than the state of Rhode Island.
Forest Service Chief Mike Dombeck said some Montana and Idaho fires could burn for months.  More than 20,000 civilian and military firefighters managed to contain 60 fires in the past week, Dombeck said, but new fires were igniting just as fast.
"I think it's highly likely we'll be looking to the military for more help," Dombeck said in Idaho.  "Our fire season could be another two months, maybe a little longer."
President Clinton plans to visit an Idaho wildfire on Tuesday for a firsthand assessment of what has been called the worst fire season in 50 years.  Officials said Clinton wants to thank firefighters and soldiers for their work protecting homes and valuable natural resources.
Fires burned on both sides of Bitterroot Valley on Monday.  Some residents have fled under orders for mandatory evacuation, and others have chosen to leave on their own.
Not Al and Nola Grisso of Pinesdale, just north of Hamilton.
"We wouldn't leave unless we absolutely had to," Grisso said Monday at his log home, with an American flag in front and smoke visible from the porch.  Told last week that they might have to flee, the Grissos had packed their most valued belongings.
But the homes of many of their neighbors, knocks on the doors went unanswered Monday.
The area of southwestern Montana grew considerably in the 1990's, swelling with urban expatriates eager for a Montana retreat - a log home, nestled in the forest, with snow-capped mountains on the horizon.  Now, many of those mountains are charred, and the trees next to the homes are potential torches.
Steve Frye, chief ranger at Glacier National park, said the threat of fire is one of the perils people take on when they move to such places.
It's the kind of message that bounced off of Clint Belyea, a valley resident now anxiously awaiting word on his home at a fire camp.  Over the weekend, he and his wife fled with about a third of their belongings.
"I really don't want to hear that this is nature doing its thing," he said.
Fires were burning in 10 other western states Monday.
The wildfire at Mesa Verde National Park in southwestern Colorado crept past cliff dwellings and headed toward a research center, where firefighters stood guard Monday to protect priceless artifacts that were used by ancestral Pueblo Indians.
Archaeologists scrambled to keep up with firefighters building a containment line around the 5,000-acre fire, trying to find and mark artifacts scattered around the park.  Mesa Verde had a 23,000-acre fire last month.
Ten major fires were burning on 175,000 acres in Idaho, including the nation's largest fire, which had blackened more than 102,000 acres.  Firefighters were nearing containment in major blazes in California and Idaho.

News Article: Wildfire destroys major power lines in Montana

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A major wildfire has
destroyed two major 500 kilovolt power transmission lines in
Montana, a spokesman for the Bonneville Power Administration
said on Thursday.    
The spokesman said heat from the fire had been so intense
that aluminum on the lines had melted. BPA operates the lines
which carry power from the Colstrip coal-fired plant in Montana
to demand centers in the west.    
The transmission lines went down around 1900 PDT on
Wednesday. No estimate is yet available for when they will
return to service but the given the extensive damage and
difficulties accessing the lines due to the fire, it is not
expected they will be back up anytime soon.    
BPA said that output from the Colstrip plant was being
redirected through 230 Kv lines owned by Montana Power Co
 but that the plant was having to operate at below full
capacity due to transmission constraints.    
A spokesman for PPL Corp. , which operates the
Colstrip plant, confirmed the transmission problems but
declined to comment on the impact on plant operations, citing
competitive considerations.    
The Colstrip coal-fired plant has four units with a total
capacity of around 2,160 megawatts.    

Massive Fires In Montana
August 12, 2000 9:15 pm EST

Soldiers, Students, Foreigners Will Be On The Fire Lines

BOULDER, MONT., AUG. 12, 2000 (CBS News) - The wildfires scorching earth throughout the West are achieving legendary status, especially in Montana, reports CBS News Correspondent Jim Axelrod.

While weather conditions elsewhere in the West have improved, lightning is touching off new fires nightly in the Big Sky state.

"We have, in the big picture—and we're talking probably within a 70-mile circle of right where we stand—150,000 acres on fire, " said Don Ray of the Darby Fire Department. "I've never seen fire activity like this in the Bitterroot in my life."

Where's the Fire?
Click here to see the National Interagency Fire Center's fire tracking map.

Read state-by-state updates of the wildfires.
Figures compiled by the National Interagency Fire Center show that by Saturday 65,316 fires had burned over 4,478,679 acres across more than 30 states this year. Currently, firefighters are trying to control 69 fires in 11 states that have so far consumed 923,535 acres.

Another, more tragic figure increased Friday when a wind-fueled wildfire engulfed a truck on the Wind River Indian Reservation and killed one firefighter, the sixth death involving U.S. wildfires this year. A second firefighter was burned in the accident.

Despite the risks, the ranks of those struggling to contain the flames in this record fire season are growing.

Military troops are on fire duty, and retired fire managers have been asked to return. In Idaho, where fires are burning on more than 423,280 acres, fire crews from Australia and New Zealand joined the fight. A team of 500 Canadians is fighting fires in the Northern Rockies.

The foreign fire crews made history when they took up positions on the lines.

"This is the first time that we have used significant firefighting resources from outside the United States in terms of personnel," said Ron Dunton, fire program manager for the national fire center.

The Montana university system told students Friday they can report for fall classes three weeks late if they stay on the fire lines.

4,420,539, not including Hawaii
60 blazes covering 901,485 acres in Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Washington and Wyoming
Mesa Verde National Park
National Interagency Fire Center, Associated Press, as of Aug. 11

Even with reinforcements, manpower is still painfully thin and homeowners aren't waiting for firefighters to protect their property.

Saturday afternoon, Dan Myers cut down trees to reduce the fuel supply for any flames that might come his way.

"It's like the hurricane offshore: you know it's coming, it stops, it stalls, it builds," said Myers. "You don't know what it's going to do. All you can do is keep working."

In Hamilton, about 600 people remain out of their homes because of a 7,600-fire that was just 30 percent contained, and more residents near Darby were forced from their homes Friday.

Elsewhere, there were signs of progress Friday.

Fire managers in New Mexico and Oregon reported all major fires contained. In California, the 11,734-acre Pechanga Indian reservation fire was contained late Thursday, and firefighters were standing by in case the 74,439-acre Manter fire flared from high wind.

In Colorado, the Bureau of Land Management and other federal agencies banned open campfires, charcoal fires, fireworks, outside smoking and the use of equipment that could produce sparks on all federal land.

Did Fire Funds Burn Up?
Click here to read about evidence the federal government didn't set aside enough money to prepare for blazes expected during the 2000 fire season.
"We have reached a turning point in an unprecedented fire season where firefighting needs have exceeded available resources," Ann Morgan, BLM state director, said Friday. "We cannot afford a human-caused fire in Colorado."

Montana's Department of Environmental Quality on Thursday prohibited open burning, adding to a ban on public use of state lands. The Bureau of Land Management also extended use restrictions statewide on its lands.

While the West continued to burn, fingers were pointed at the federal government for ignoring warnings earlier this year from officials worried that budget cuts would cripple efforts to fight fires.

But Tim Ahern, a spokesman for Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, said since 1996, fire preparedness spending has increased 40 percent.

Federal Emergency Management Agency director Jame Lee Witt was on scene Saturday, promising that federal aid would cover half the cost of fire damage, and deflecting criticism from federal fire prevention programs to the intense hot, dry windy weather.

SOURCES: CBS Worldwide Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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