by Dee Finney

updated 9-15-00

Photo taken near Missoula, Montana
Photographer: Firefighter John McColgan
August 6, 2000


6-8-00 - DREAM - I was with Brian De Palma the movie director and we were talking about the movie Firestorm. He said, "You can't ever know the full truth until you buy shoes in more than one country. He was meaning Mexico.  I was thinking ... "Anyone could borrow my shoes ... they don't stink!"

After I thought about Brian De Palma's statement, it makes a lot of sense. You can't really know much about a country until you live there long enough to 'need' to buy a pair of shoes.  Until that time, you have to take everyone elses word as to what is going on. By the time you 'need' a pair of shoes, you will know the truth by observation.


I want to give Brian De Palma credit for being in the dream and for his wisdom.  Here is a list of the films he directed. Firestorm was not one of them.

Mission to Mars (2000), Snake Eyes (1998), Mission: Impossible (1996), Carlito's Way (1993), Raising Cain (1992), Bonfire of the Vanities (1990), Casualties of War (1989),
The Untouchables (1987), Wise Guys (1986), Body Double (1984), Scarface (1983), Blow Out (1981), Dressed to Kill (1980), Home Movies (1979), The Fury (1978), Carrie (1976), Obsession (1976), Phantom of the Paradise (1974), Sisters (1973), Get to Know Your Rabbit (1972), The Wedding Party (1969), Greetings (1968)


I thought I had seen the movie Firestorm, but it certainly wasn't this one. I tried to find a good review and couldn't.  Here's is the best I found:

Firestorm: (1998 ) Directed by:  Dean Semler

Actors: Howie Long, Scott Glenn, William Forsythe, Suzy Amis, Christianne Hirt, Garwin Sanford, Sebastian Spence, Michael Greyeyes

Our hero is a fearless smokejumper who doesn't know the meaning of the word "can't". When a freak fire sparks, he goes to investigate and unknowingly becomes a thorn in the side of a ruthless escaped convict, who has gone to great lengths to be reunited with over $30 million. With that booty as an incentive, the crook adds a new meaning to the word hot-head as he plays a deadly game of cat and mouse in the middle of an inferno.

The critics were not impressed.

Another review I found was this: In the last couple of years we've had man against earthquakes, volcanoes, cave-ins, asteroids and now forest fires. Jesse Graves (Long) is a smoke jumper, a man who parachutes in to fight forest fires deep within the woods where they are inaccessible - they fight fire on it's own terms, man against beast. He will need all his wits and skill to battle a new and even more dangerous beast when a daring prison break releases a gang of killers lead by a certified psychotic nutcase.

This is a return to the action movie style that was so popular in the eighties, a single guy out to save himself and a token woman from the clutches of some impossibly bad badguy. While it will offer some gut level enjoyment, the production values are painfully low for a mainstream Hollywood release and the characters are two-dimensional stereotypes that leave you indifferent to their fate. Take it or leave it, Firestorm is one of those movies that may occupy you for a few hours but you won't be missing anything if you skip it.

According to  there are two other movies with the same name, one from 1995 and one made for TV in 1993 which was about Oakland, CA. Thought I found the details about the film, characters, actors, etc. there were no reviews.

So much for following that trail.....


I remember well that there were some pretty bad fires in Mexico in 1999, so went tracking that news down if it's still online:

Wednesday May 17 , 2000

Mexican Blaze Threatens Rare Monarch Butterfly

By Elisabeth Eaves

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Hundreds of acres of forest that are a home to the imperiled Monarch butterfly have gone up in flames in the last four days, Mexico's environment ministry said on Wednesday.

Conservationists say the destruction of the winter habitat by the blaze -- which is still burning -- could threaten hundreds of millions of Monarchs with extinction.

The bright orange and black butterflies have captured the imagination of environmentalists for their migration from Mexico to Canada and back and draw tourists to their Mexican sanctuary from November to April when they festoon the trees.

Eight hundred and fifteen acres have been burned in a 2,100 square-mile nature reserve in mountainous central Mexico, the ministry said in a statement. The fire began Sunday afternoon and was 75 percent under control on Wednesday, it added.

Scientists say the blaze will dry out the forest and thin the foliage canopy.

``The butterflies use the forest as an umbrella and a blanket,'' said Lincoln Brower, a biology professor at Sweet Briar College in the U.S. State of Virginia. ``If they get wet, they lose their tolerance to freezing,'' he told Reuters by telephone.

The area burned in the last four days is part of a nature reserve set aside in 1986 by Mexico as a home for butterflies fleeing harsh northern winters.

The environment ministry said the fire is outside the area designated a ``core zone'' for the butterflies.

But Brower said research shows colonies of Monarchs also reside in the outer ``buffer'' zone, currently in flames.

``Wonder Of Biology''

The director of the local forestry commission, Rene Orozco, told Reforma daily that Tuesday's fire damage had not endangered the equilibrium of the nature reserve.

But scientists and environmentalists were not so certain.

``The migration and overwintering biology could collapse completely in the eastern United States. As far as we know they don't know where else to go,'' said Brower. He has studied the Monarchs for 45 years and calls their overwintering ``one of the world's wonders of biology.''

Juan Carlos Cantu, biodiversity director at Greenpeace Mexico, said fires ruin forever the Monarchs' Mexican home.

``If we destroy their home here, it wouldn't be worth protecting them outside Mexico,'' he said.

Monarchs breed in the spring and summer on the gulf coast of the United States and in the Great Lakes region.

All Monarchs from east of the Rocky Mountains winter in Mexico in an area one millionth the size of their northern breeding grounds, Brower said.

Cantu and Brower both said Mexico lacked the resources to protect nature and failed to enforce forestry regulations.

``Mexico is not prepared to protect its reserve areas from fire,'' he told Reuters. ``It doesn't have the infrastructure, it doesn't have the trained personnel, and it doesn't have the culture of educating communities on how to prevent fire.''


Villagers spend the night in shelters after volcano erupts


Associated Press Writer

JUAN BARRAGAN, Mexico (AP) - The Colima volcano towers above this village, but there is nobody left to hear the rumbles and whines from the peak - cows and horses wander the dirt streets aimlessly after all 89 residents were evacuated.

Some who heard the eerie sounds of Wednesday's eruptions compared them to the whine of a jet engine; some reported sounds like thunder. Many knew that, even after entire lives spent on the volcano's flanks, it wasn't safe to stay.

"We heard the mountain thunder, so we ran," said Rosa Magana Betancourt, a resident of Juan Barragan who sat beside her 2-year-old daughter Thalia at an evacuation center in the nearby town of San Marcos, in western Jalisco state.

She was describing three successive eruptions at the 12,533-foot Colima peak, or "volcano of fire." Those blasts sent lava and glowing rock flowing 3 miles down the mountain's slopes, the Interior Secretariat reported.

A total of 118 residents were evacuated from Juan Barragan and two other villages located 6 to 8 miles from the volcano. A patrol of 20 Mexican army soldiers remained in Juan Barragan on Wednesday night, camped out in the village church.

"This has never happened before, and I've lived here all my life," Magana Betancourt said as she prepared to spend the night at an improvised shelter at a farm hall in San Marcos, a few miles south of the Jalisco state capital of Guadalajara.

Civil protection agencies in both Jalisco and neighboring Colima states said there was no damage aside from some grass fires caused by lava flows near the crater, which straddles the border of the two states.

Volcanologists consider Colima to be the most active and potentially most destructive of a line of nine volcanoes that runs across the middle of the Mexican mainland. It has staged violent eruptions several dozen times since the first recorded eruption in 1560.

About 300,000 people live within 25 miles of the volcano, and Colima city, the capital of Colima state, is within 20 miles of the peak.

Jaime Arturo Paz Garcia, director of the Jalisco civil protection agency, described the Wednesday eruptions as "internal," meaning there was no outward blast.

He said the first explosion was "quite powerful." It sent a column of steam, smoke and ashes more than 3 miles high. He said the second and third eruptions were less strong, although still powerful. Scientists in the area detected toxic gases such as sulfur dioxide in the emissions.

The gases formed a dense fog around the volcano's summit, about 300 miles west of Mexico City, which later dispersed.

In November, lesser eruptions forced the evacuation of about 240 people from Juan Barragan and a village in Colima. But after a few days, the peak quieted and residents were allowed to return to their homes.

© Copyright 1999.

. Fire destroys left-wing camp

Fire destroys left-wing camp. By Paul Jenkins. MEXICO CITY -- Around 850 dwellings were destroyed and more than 3000 people left homeless when a huge...



Fires continue to burn in northern Mexico

April 27, 1999

MEXICO CITY (AP) -- Forest and range fires in northern Mexico can't  compare to those of 1998 -- when dozens of blazes spread smoky haze as far north as the U.S. southwest -- but two fires in Nuevo Leon and Tamaulipas states have scorched hundreds of acres.

The Nuevo Leon blaze, has blackened about 1,700 acres (700) of mountainside pine forest near Montemorelos, about 125 miles (200 kms) southwest of the border city of Reynosa, the newspaper El Universal reported Tuesday.

Authorities have begun evacuating residents of three hamlets near the foot of the mountains there, after smoke and fog hampered firefighters' effort to extinguish the blaze.

Neighboring Tamaulipas state has hired three firefighting planes to help soldiers extinguish a range fire in a remote hill area that has been smoldering for more than one week, and which has consumed about 500 acres (200 hectares) of grass and cactus.

Slash-and-burn fires used to clear land for planting season, combined with a drought blamed on the El Nino weather phenomenon, resulted in 14,445 fires last spring, according to government figures.


A Brief History of Forest Fires in Mexico

(IFFN No. 19 - September 1998)



Mexico has a long and interesting history of forest fires. The conditions exist for natural fires, though human settlement has, for millennia, dominated the geography and dynamics of burning. Today, from 2,740 to 12,873 (partial figure, 1998 fire-season) registered forest fires burn between 44,401 ha to 518,265 ha per year. Only 7% of these are due to natural and unknown causes, according to official reports. Mexico's history helps to explain much of its current condition.

Ancient Anthropogenic Fire

With human colonization, fire risk, fire danger, and fire frequency all gradually increased through millennia, altering both fire regimes and vegetation. From ancient times, for example, native Mexicans used fire on grasslands to assist hunting. Presently, we can see the consequences of these historic practices in the two extremes of Mexico's fire gradient. One extreme is deforestation, although not always fire-related (300,000 ha annually). The other is fire exclusion, which is typical of several commercial pine forests. Natural and anthropogenic fires help to maintain various vegetation types, as in the case of several pine forests.

Ancient Civilizations

Many activities of ancient Mexicans started forest fires. For example, they felled trees by cutting a strip around the trunk with a stone or copper axe, then put fuels at the base to start a fire; this eventually toppled the tree (Moncayo 1975). In Teotihuacan, wood charcoal was used to feed ovens to process building and ceramic materials (Vázquez-Yañez 1982), so sites for charcoaling were common, as they still are today in several oak regions. Both these activities increased risk, and forest fires resulted because of accidental or negligent causes. In the absence of metal tools, agriculturalists also used fire extensively to clear woody areas.

In tropical areas, the Olmecs developed an efficient slash-and-burn cultivation some 3,500 years ago, and that agricultural system was used by the Mayas as well. The steps of this system, which is still broadly used in tropical Mexico and which has as its main crop maize, are: select the land, measure and delimit the chosen site, cut the vegetation, clear a fire break, burn, fence, sow, control weeds, and harvest. The present empirical knowledge that peasant descendants of the Mayas have by which they control fire behaviour according to particular needs and site characteristics tells us about the ancient fire lore of the Mayas. Today, however, with an increase in population and a reduction in the land surface available per native owner, the efficient 30 or so year rotation of old has reduced to some three years, with adverse ecological effects and a loss of productivity (Fig.2.)

But the original spirit of the people was conservationist. They knew that wild plants and animals provided them with many goods and services essential to survival, and this was good reason to consider them as gods. So even as human population increased, society stratified, resources became scarce, and droughts and hunger occurred, the care of wildlife was a communal and official task (Aguilera 1985). The Chichimec king Nopaltzin established norms to restrict the burning of grasslands and forests, and his grandson Texcocan king Netzahualcoyotl dictated laws to protect forests (Villaseñor 1980).

The useful and feared fire, moreover, was part of the rich ancient Mexican mythology, as shown by the notion of fire as a renewal element in the Aztec ceremony of the "new fire." This ceremony reflects a preoccupation with the fate of the sun. In the night at the end of a 52-year cycle, every fire in temples and houses was extinguished, and at the same time a group of priests lit a new fire on a hill near the city. Then the people knew that this world would end and a new cycle begin (Vázquez-Soto 1972). Another example is the god of fire Xiuhtecuhtli, also known as Huehueteotl, or old god, represented by an elder with a brazier on his head.

The Colony

After the conquest of ancient Mexico by Spain, agriculture in forest lands intensified. This fact plus such native practices as charcoaling and those practices introduced by the conquerors such as mining and cattle raising, along with the demand for fuel wood as a source of energy, greatly increased forest exploitation (Gutiérrez-Palacio 1989) and of course forest fires. The regidores de montes (a type of forest ranger) had as their responsibilities to care for the forest, including the coordination of rural communities to fight fire (Quevedo 1928). Legislation supported fire prevention and control, as with the Mesta ordinance, which established fines as penalties for those responsible for forest fires (Zuno 1973). But all these good intentions and legislation were not sufficient, and the degradation of the forests continued. An independent Mexico created a Forest Service and a forest ranger corps in 1861 (Verduzco-Gutiérrez 1959).

The 20th Century

In 1900 Miguel Angel de Quevedo successfully convinced the federal government to establish a forest protection program, over which he subsequently presided. This institution became the primary organ for modern reforestation and the control of forest fires. During the 1920s several reforms accelerated forest fire protection. The first forest law was promulgated, which included provisions for forest fires. Technical trips were conducted to the USA, technical papers on fire were published in the journal México Forestal, and the installation of towers for fire detection was begun. The era identified fire as the main destructive factor of forests, considered the prevention of fires crucial, and recognized humans as the major cause of fires. By the 1930s a special Forest Fires Office developed. It had as a strategy, supported by law, the coordination of non-federal human and material resources to fight fire and the creation of volunteer corps. But resources for fire control were scarce.

In 1961 President Adolfo López Mateos established a 5-year plan that increased dramatically the financial, human, and material resources to fight fire, primarily in Central Mexico, the critical area. Since then, with highs and lows, the magnitude and efficiency of human, financial, and material resources has increased. Presently, according to Cedeño-Sánchez (unpublished) the federal government has more than 1,800 fire fighters, 133 detection towers, 145 vehicles, while forest owners provide more than 4,000 fire fighters, 96 detection towers, and 313 vehicles, among other resources. A large proportion of the fire fighters have received training courses of middle to high level. In the 1960s the government brought five helicopters for fire detection. By the 1980s helicopters and planes participated in fire control as well. Also in the 1980s computerized systems such as BEHAVE (USA) and EXTINGE (Mexico) were adopted for fire modeling and the development of fire danger and risk maps (Rodríguez-Trejo 1996). Additionally, prescribed burns are applied on larger surfaces, with more diverse objectives.

Final Words

Historically forest fires have been an important tool for agriculture and cattle ranching in Mexico. Such practices have contributed as fire causes even to the present day, thus assisting deforestation. But it must be recognized also that the frequent surficial fires in several regions have helped maintain pine forests and have reduced the danger of crown fires. The size and efficiency of fire fighting in Mexico continues to progress. For example, during recent years the average size of forest fires has been less than 40 ha/fire. Moreover, the universities and forest research centers are focusing more on several aspects of forest fires for both operational needs and fire ecology.

Brief update: The 1998-fire season

This was the hardest fire season in Mexican history. By 3 June 1998, near to the end of the regular fire-season in the majority of the territory, 12,873 fires affected 439,945 ha. Because of El Niño, Mexico experimented the worst drought in 70 years and that complicated severely the fire season. 60 persons died fighting the forest fires, and the smoke produced in central Mexico, Southern Mexico and Central America, reached several USA states, as Texas, Georgia, Arizona and Florida. The smoke produced pollution problems to several cities as Mexico City, Villahermosa, San Cristóbal de las Casas, among others. Several evacuations were done in some periurban areas and villages. By the mentioned date, the president authorized in two occasions an increment in budget to fight the fire, and the USA offered and provided generous technical and financial help to fight the fires. 6,000 fire fighters were active, plus 139,000 elements of the Army, and thousands of volunteers also participated. 57 aircraft from Mexico, the USA and Canada were used in combat activities and the cost of this season it was 290 million Mexican pesos (US$33.3 million), without taking in account the expenses by the governments of each state.

Acknowledgments by the author

To Dr. Stephen J. Pyne, for his valuable comments to this paper and review of the English language. To Dr. Johann G. Goldammer, for the edition and opportunity to publish this material, and to the CONACYT, who supports my Ph.D. studies.


Of course, while searching for fire news, I couldn't miss this:

Thursday June 15, 2000

Colorado Wildfires Could Turn Extremely Dangerous

By Judith Crosson

DENVER (Reuters) - Firefighters battling two out-of-control Colorado wildfires that have already set 15,000 acres ablaze kept a wary eye on high, erratic winds forecast for Thursday.

And hundreds of people who evacuated earlier this week still were unable to get back to check on their homes.

Some 53 homes and structures have been destroyed since Monday when the two fires started, one southwest of Denver and the other north of the city. More than 3,000 other homes and buildings were threatened, officials said.

Fears focused on a cold front approaching the area that will eventually render some relief to the 1,400 firefighters working to contain the blaze.

But erratic winds that could change a fire's direction in minutes were expected to precede the cooler temperatures, a shift could put firefighters right in the path of flames. ``And we can't run that fast,'' said fire information officer Doug Wagner of the Rocky Mountain Area Coordination Center.

Aerial units were grounded on Thursday because of the wind forecasts, leaving the task of fighting the blazes to ground crews. About 400 more firefighters were en route to the area.

The Hi Meadow fire, southwest of Denver, has already engulfed 7,650 acres and the Bobcat, north of Denver has set 7,400 acres ablaze, Wagner said. Both fires were estimated at about 6,640 acres on Wednesday.

Acreage estimates were expected to grow later Thursday if the high winds hit, Wagner said.

``What happens is that the fire starts creating its own weather. The heat rises and the fire sucks cold air from the ground. Then sparks and embers start flying,'' Wagner said.

Flying Embers Can Spread Wildfire

Those embers can travel as much as a mile, allowing a wildfire to cross highways, a fear in the Hi Meadow fire.

The hot weather also made life harder for hundreds of firefighters battling a blaze in Napa County, where approximately 5,700 acres were aflame in brush fire that officials set was probably ignited by the spark from a minor car accident

Connie Sabin, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Forestry, said Thursday 1,087 firefighters were battling the blaze along a four-mile fire line established near Lake Berryessa, about 50 miles northeast of San Francisco.

``The fire is about 60 percent contained now and we are estimating full containment tonight,'' Sabin said, adding that only six minor injuries had been reported in the fire.

``The weather is cooling, thank God, it is down to 100 degrees now, and the wind is down, which is good,'' Sabin said. ''We believe we have turned the corner.''


Wednesday June 14, 2000

Wildfires Burn Homes in Colorado

By P. SOLOMON BANDA, Associated Press Writer

CONIFER, Colo. (AP) - Firefighters were aided by lighter wind and a fresh supply of fire retardant Wednesday as they battled two Colorado wildfires that had forced some 800 people out of their homes.

The blazes, stoked by sweltering temperatures and gusty wind, had charred nearly 12,000 acres and more than 30 structures since Monday.

Lloyd and Margie Knodel wept after learning their home had been destroyed.

``You don't think about losing everything and starting over again at our age,'' the 63-year-old Knodel said Tuesday after finding his address on a list of burned homes. Early Wednesday, that list had grown to 29.

``I knew in my heart it was gone, but it wasn't real until seeing our number on the paper,'' said his wife, 53.

The Knodels were among 400 to 500 people who had fled the fire that began near Bailey and burned 5,500 acres in the parched foothills 35 miles southwest of Denver. Three firefighters suffered minor burns. Lightning was suspected as the cause.

Ninety miles away, in the tree-lined canyons east of Rocky Mountain National Park, high wind fanned a 6,500-acre blaze that had burned at least five structures.

Firefighters there concentrated on protecting about 250 homes amid stands of ponderosa pine and fir trees. Some 420 people had been forced out of their homes by nightfall Tuesday.

``It's going to be a long battle,'' said Justin Dombrowski, a spokesman for the fire management team.

Six slurry bombers resumed flights over the two fires Wednesday after being grounded for part of Tuesday by erratic wind and a shortage of fire retardant. A shipment of 100,000 gallons of retardant was flown into the region from western Colorado during the night, Dombrowski said.

An additional 400 firefighters were expected to join the 630 men and women already battling the blazes.

Gov. Bill Owens declared an emergency, making three counties eligible for state money and putting the National Guard on alert. The Federal Emergency Management Agency planned to provide additional money.

Elsewhere, erratic wind fanned two wildfires in northern New Mexico, northeast of Santa Fe.

A lightning-caused fire near Questa had burned 1,000 acres by Wednesday in the Rio Grande Gorge, while a 500-acre fire near Mora led authorities to urge 33 families to voluntarily evacuate their homes, said fire information officer Peter D'Aquanni.

And in Northern California, a fire pushed by gusty wind and triple-digit temperatures had burned through more than 2,500 acres of dry brush and grass on hillsides near the popular Lake Berryessa recreation area in Napa County. Forty homes were evacuated Tuesday.

The fire season is shaping up as the worst since 1996, according to the National Interagency Fire Center in Idaho. It began more than a month ago with blazes engulfing areas of Florida and the Southwest, most notably at Los Alamos, N.M.

Some 44,300 fires covering more than 1.2 million acres have been recorded nationwide so far, with drought conditions getting worse in the West.

On a ridge near Conifer, anxious residents watched as smoldering areas erupted in flames and were slowly engulfed.

``You feel so helpless,'' said Mary Sousa, watching with her husband, Rick, and 8-year-old daughter, Kelly.

On the Net:

National Interagency Fire Center:

Jefferson County Sheriff's Office map:

Rocky Mountain Area Coordinating Group:


See a Yahoo! special report on
Wildfires and Forest Fires
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Colorado Wildfires Remain Threatening - Reuters (Jun 14, 2000)
Both fires 'blowin' and goin' - RockyMountain News (Jun 14, 2000)
Fires burn out of control - Boulder Daily Camera (Jun 14, 2000)
Bailey fire 'blows up' - Denver Post (Jun 14, 2000)
Wind-whipped Colorado fires force hundreds from homes - CNN (Jun 14, 2000)
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Major Colorado wildfires - list of past fires, from Rocky Mountain News
US Forest Service - Rocky Mountain Area Fire & Aviation Management - provides information on fire intelligence, weather, danger, and safety.
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Western States Fire Information Resource - includes information about emergency preparedness and medical services, and related state and federal agencies. For the western U.S. and Canada.
Discovery Channel: Line of Fire: New Respect for an Old Enemy - learn about wildland fire management, try out a fire-control simulation, and read and hear smoke jumper stories.
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Wake up to wildfires - Boulder Daily Camera (Jun 14, 2000)
Ounce of prevention - Denver Post (Jun 14, 2000)
Tankers attack blazes from Jeffco - Boulder Daily Camera (Jun 14, 2000)
How Could It Have Happened? - Newsweek (May 25, 2000)
Los Alamos Under Siege - Newsweek (May 17, 2000)
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Cerro Grande Fire - Albuquerque Tribune.
Fire Photos - Sante Fe New Mexican.
Fires Raze Scores of Homes Near Los Alamos - NPR (May 12, 2000)
Fire information officer Dave Schultz on Los Alamos fire - CBC.CA (May 12, 2000)
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Firefighters look for hot spots from a Sacramento County blaze Tuesday. Officials said the fire would have been smaller without the wind.

Bee/Laura Chun

Wind, fire, no power, 101 degrees and more to come

By Cheryl Miller and Ted Bell

Bee Staff Writers

Gusty winds and triple-digit heat Tuesday caused sporadic power outages and fanned brush fires locally and throughout Northern California, with firefighters bracing for what could be a weeklong heat wave.

The death of a Sacramento teenager seeking refuge from the heat in the American River also prompted warnings by authorities about the area's waterways.

Forecasters predict the high temperature in Sacramento will reach 107 degrees today, just two degrees shy of the record set in 1961. The winds are expected to continue through the morning and decrease this afternoon.

The soaring mercury, combined with the winds and low humidity, helped fan a number of fires throughout the area. The crisp conditions prompted fire officials to declare a red-flag alert for much of Northern California. Departments added extra firefighters to crews sent out to all reported blazes.

Between 100 and 125 acres of grass in southern Placer County near the Sacramento County border were eaten up by fire before 50 firefighters from seven departments controlled it Tuesday afternoon.

Crews also were battling a 475-acre brush fire south of Oroville on Tuesday night. Blowing smoke had closed a seven-mile stretch of Highway 70. A brush fire near Suisun City also burned 700 acres and came within 20 feet of the Monte Bella Vista subdivision before it was stopped by a dirt path that acted as a fire break.

Aerial tankers and helicopters joined more than 30 engines and water tankers to attack a Butte County fire west of Oroville that grew to more than 300 acres before it was contained about four hours later.

The fire burned through the Oroville Wildlife Refuge, jumped Highway 70 and swept into a salvage yard and a small cogeneration plant.

Thick black smoke from burning tires in the yard could be seen for miles.

Swimmers sought relief in area rivers, but the cold currents claimed a victim. Marian Moshean, 15, drowned in the American River on Tuesday afternoon about 200 yards east of the Howe Avenue bridge.

The boy was body-surfing near the middle of the river when he began to tire and slipped beneath the surface, witnesses said. A Sheriff's Department helicopter spotted the body, which was pulled from the water by a city Fire Department boat.

Sustained winds of 25 mph to 30 mph gusted to 36 mph at Sacramento International Airport and knocked out power to several thousand Sacramento Municipal Utility District customers. A SMUD spokesman said most outages were short-lived.

The thermometer reached 101 degrees in downtown Sacramento on Tuesday, and the air quality was good, according to the Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District. Air quality should fall into the moderately healthful range today,a district spokeswoman said.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection is asking residents to refrain from clearing brush with power tools during the heat wave.

"We don't want people out there with chain saws, lawn mowers or weed-eaters because they may strike a rock that could send a spark into dry grass," said Karen Terrill, CDF's public information officer. "A spark that would have landed harmlessly (Monday) could start a major wildfire today."


Wednesday June 7, 2000

Fire Danger Rises in Hot West

By COLLEEN SLEVIN, Associated Press Writer

DENVER (AP) - With drought conditions already being noticed in Colorado and other western states, some forecasters predict things will grow worse before they get better.

In Colorado, the snowpack that feeds the state's water supply is 86 percent below average statewide because of less-than-normal precipitation and warm winds.

``We have to take good care of the crops we have now,'' said farmer Bill Markham of Berthoud in northern Colorado. ``We don't know what the future will bring.''

Markham already replanted about half of his sugar beet crop because of earlier frost and strong winds. Now he is worried because his green winter wheat is beginning to brown and winds are blowing away what little moisture remains.

The dry weather also means conditions are ripe for wildfires.

In neighboring Nevada, where the fire season begins Friday, drought has left much of the state dry as tissue paper. One fire in southern Nevada already has scorched more than 2,000 acres.

State Forester Firewarden Roy Trenoweth said warm, dry, breezy days are drying out vegetation in all areas but a few parts of northeastern Nevada. Much of the southern and western parts of the state already are primed for fires.

In New Mexico, drought conditions were blamed on wildfires that spread out of control and burned thousands of acres of forest this spring and forced evacuations.

Relief is on the way to New Mexico. According to the National Weather Service's summer drought forecast issued last month, the state should see ``monsoon'' rains in July.

After one of the warmest winters on record, federal officials have declared drought conditions in parts of New Mexico, Arizona and Montana, said meteorologist Martin Hoerling of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Colorado has not received that designation, but ``some parts of the state are already seeing emerging drought conditions,'' Assistant State Climatologist Nolan Doesken said Tuesday. ``We've got the ingredients for a very hot, dry summer. Whether it materializes only time will tell.''

For now, the fire danger remains high to extreme across much of the state, which is unusual so early in the season, U.S. Forest Service spokesman Lynn Young said.

Conditions are the worst in southern Colorado and in the northwest. There are restrictions on open fires in three national forests and 18 counties statewide.

``Everyone's kind of on guard and paying a lot of attention right now with this high fire danger,'' Young said.


Sunday June 4 , 2000

Firefighting Copter Crashes in Fla.

FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) - A government helicopter fighting wildfires in southwest Florida crashed Sunday morning, killing the pilot.

The Bell UH-1 Huey was equipped to carry 200 gallons of water, said Liz Compton, a Florida Department of Agriculture spokeswoman.

``He had dumped the load and was going back to get more water when he crashed,'' Compton said.

The helicopter was being flown for the Division of Forestry. The cause of the crash is under investigation.

The pilot, George A. Burton, 48, had been fighting a fire that reportedly threatened about a dozen homes near Fort Myers. Fire officials could not immediately confirm the extent of the blaze.

Since the first of the year, 3,300 fires have burned 120,000 acres in Florida.

In the West, hot, dry conditions have fueled wildfires in several states.

Firefighters in New Mexico had a blaze in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains about 70 percent contained Sunday. The fire had forced the evacuation of hundreds since it began Monday in a pine forest east of Santa Fe.

Officials said the fire threat in the area remained high despite thunderstorms Thursday and Friday.

In Arizona, an 11,000-acre fire in the Kaibab National Forest was about 75 percent contained Sunday. Authorities said the steep rugged terrain has made part of the fire impossible to reach, but natural barriers and fire lines now ring the blaze.

``Nobody expects it to be completely out until we get some rain on it,'' fire information officer Jason Abraham said.


Thursday June 1, 2000

Wildfire Grows Across New Mexico

By ANDRES YBARRA, Associated Press Writer

PECOS, N.M. (AP) - Firefighters in northern New Mexico got some unexpected help Thursday as rain fell in the Sangre de Cristo mountains, where a fire has charred more than 25,000 acres.

``At first we thought we were going to get dry lightning, but it's real rain,'' said Maria Garcia, a fire information officer. ``We'll need to be cautious with the potential for lightning but with the moisture maybe it'll all even out.''

Just weeks after the worst wildfire in New Mexico history devastated Los Alamos, this fire began Monday and ballooned from 6,500 acres Tuesday to more than 25,000 acres Thursday. It was burning in the forests east of Santa Fe and was about 70 miles from Los Alamos.

The flames surged through dry timber, threatening the Pecos Wilderness - a state preserve - and the main watershed for Las Vegas, N.M. There have been an undetermined number of evacuations but no serious injuries reported.

The blaze was 20 percent contained Thursday, and firefighters were making their big push on its north end, where it headed toward the wilderness area and the watershed.

Some crews remained on the south end, where the fire started, trying to catch any hot spots. Some tree stumps still were smoldering, and there were only a few patches of green on the charcoal mountainsides.

Authorities said the fire was human-caused.

In Arizona, firefighters gained a little ground on a wildfire burning through 10,000 acres in the Kaibab National Forest. Crews had the fire 50 percent contained and expected to connect lines around the fire by Saturday, Forest Service spokeswoman Emily Garber said. That fire started with a lightning strike.


June 1, 2000 - New N.M. Fire Burns 22,000 Acres

By DEBORAH BAKER, Associated Press Writer

PECOS, N.M. (AP) - Firefighters battling a blaze that has charred thousands of acres in northern New Mexico scrambled to protect water sources as they learned the fire is more than three times larger than originally feared.

Flames surged through dry timber Wednesday in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, threatening the Pecos Wilderness and the main watershed for Las Vegas, N.M. There have been an undetermined number of evacuations but no serious injuries reported.

Aided by infrared mapping, officials found Wednesday that the fire had ballooned from 6,500 acres Tuesday to 23,500 acres Wednesday and was at the upper edge of the Gallinas Canyon, which supplies Las Vegas with water.

``The far north end of the fire has reached what is essentially considered the upper portion of the Gallinas watershed,'' said fire information officer Maria Garcia. ``However, water quality has not been affected.''

The blaze was 15 percent contained late Wednesday. It is in the forests east of Santa Fe and some 70 miles from Los Alamos, where the worst fire in state history last month burned more than 45,000 acres and destroyed more than 200 homes.

Gov. Gary Johnson flew over the Gallinas and Santa Fe watersheds Wednesday afternoon. He warned there could be ``a true catastrophe'' if trees are not thinned and brush isn't cleared.

``I think this flight really points out the importance of preventive maintenance for all the watersheds in New Mexico,'' Johnson said.

After searing heat, lower temperatures and higher humidity have aided firefighters. The forecast today called for partly cloudy skies with a slight chance of afternoon thunderstorms.

The massive columns of smoke that roiled skyward Monday and Tuesday were gone Wednesday as smoke lay flat over the area. The air was hazy and smelled of smoke in Las Vegas, about 12 miles away and out of the path of the fire.

Air tankers have been dropping fire retardant on the flames and helicopters have been dumping huge buckets of water since the fire broke out Monday. More than 1,000 firefighters and support staff were on the scene.

The area is checkered with small ranches, clumps of dwellings and several camps. On Tuesday, campers and residents were ordered out of Gallinas, El Porvenir and Cow Creek canyons and the upper reaches of Pecos River Canyon.

The fire's cause remained under investigation, but fire information officer Don Butz said it wasn't lightning. ``If Mother Nature didn't do it,'' he said, ``man somehow did.''


Xriday May 26, 2000

Storms Create New Fires in Arizona

KAIBAB NATIONAL FOREST, Ariz. (AP) - A rash of wildfires apparently ignited by lightning and fanned by winds were stretching Arizona's firefighting resources today.

The largest, the Pumpkin fire, had spread over an estimated 2,500 acres by this morning near Kendrick Mountain in the Kaibab National Forest about 15 miles west of Flagstaff.

``It's going pretty hard,'' forest spokeswoman Cathie Schmidlin said. ``The smoke plume is really impressive.''

Thursday afternoon, the fire drove three families from their homes as it moved north and east through the Kendrick Mountain Wilderness toward Kendrick Peak.

Another forest spokeswoman, Irma Matson, said expected wind changes today may drive the fire back into larger timber on Kendrick Mountain. ``It's harder to fight the fire if it goes back into the wilderness area,'' she said.

Two other fires were burning the northern section of the forest north of Big Springs. Two smaller ones burned forest land south of Interstate 40.

Authorities believe they all were ignited by lightning as a storm swept the area on Wednesday, then were fanned by wind Thursday morning.

``All of our resources are in use,'' Schmidlin said. ``We're calling in help from other places.

As the storm system moved through neighboring New Mexico, firefighters lost some ground on the state's worst wildfire on record, the Cerro Grande blaze that destroyed homes and forced thousands to evacuate for several days in Los Alamos.

``The heavy thunderstorms and windstorms really caused some problems,'' Debbie Santiago, a fire information officer, said Thursday evening. ``Mother Nature is not cooperating with us.''

The fire was fully surrounded, or contained, by Wednesday evening, but the fire broke through a small section of fire line and as of this morning was described as 97 percent contained. Because of the new setbacks, the target date for fully controlling the fire was set back from Sunday to July 9.

``This gives us a window to work with, especially with hotter, drier weather,'' Joe Pasinato, a fire information officer, said today. ``We're doing well, but it's not out.''

The blaze was started May 4 by the National Park Service to clear brush at Bandelier National Monument. The fire flared out of control when wind kicked up, burning 48,000 acres in northern New Mexico.


Thursday May 25, 2000

New Mexico Fire Contained

LOS ALAMOS, N.M. (AP) - A fire that blackened nearly 48,000 acres and destroyed more than 200 homes in northern New Mexico was 100 percent contained Wednesday evening, the Forest Service said.

Fire officials expected to have the Cerro Grande fire snuffed out this week.

Despite containment, Forest Service officials fear the fire, the largest and most destructive in New Mexico history, could flare up again during thunderstorms forecast for the Los Alamos area this week.

``We have some fuels out there that are prime to burn,'' said fire information officer Joe Pasinato.

Firefighters on Wednesday completed a 100-mile-long firebreak - an area one foot to 50 feet wide around the blaze that was cleared of forest debris and trees.

More than 600 firefighters, including support staff, still were involved in fighting the blaze, which started May 4 as a controlled burn before winds whipped it out of control and into Los Alamos and its famous nuclear research laboratory. Some 1,400 firefighters were working the fire at its peak last week.

If the fire doesn't flare up again, it is expected to be out by Sunday night, Pasinato said.


Sunday May 21, 2000

Los Alamos, Scourged by Fire, Faces Flood Threat

By Marcus Kabel

LOS ALAMOS, N.M. (Reuters) - Scourged by fire, the town that gave birth to the atomic bomb now faces a threat from water after New Mexico's worst wildfire left the mountains around Los Alamos prone to flash floods ahead of the rainy season.

As firefighters worked on Sunday to contain the blaze's last front line, the town of Los Alamos and the adjoining U.S. nuclear weapons laboratory struggled to recover from the fire, which scorched research facilities, destroyed more than 200 homes and caused other widespread damage.

Los Alamos National Laboratory, where the first atomic bomb was built in 1945, plans to reopen gradually starting on Monday, two weeks after it closed as the fire drew near. The town that grew up as a bedroom community for the lab allowed its 11,000 residents to return in stages last week after being evacuated on May 10.

``We're all just kind of numb. The reality is just sinking in,'' Los Alamos resident Pat Minor said as he picked up cleaning supplies and snacks from a Red Cross emergency station. Minor's house suffered smoke damage but the one next door was burnt to the ground.

Fire Leaves Flash Flood Threat In Its Wake

Even as residents were beginning to clean up or lay plans to rebuild, emergency officials warned the wildfire had created a new danger -- summer flash floods in late June or July, when heavy rains usually fall on northern New Mexico.

The town and the laboratory are perched on a high plateau nestled in the pine-forested Jemez Mountains, which rise above them to the west and north.

The wildfire burned much of the forest underbrush that normally slows water running off the mountainsides and glazed the top layer of soil into a surface that sheds water, said Ken Palmrose, spokesman for a multi-agency Burned Area Emergency Recovery team surveying the damage.

As a result, the summer rains could send powerful torrents down the canyons and arroyos that cut through Los Alamos, potentially flooding roads, undermining bridges and carving new watercourses through property.

Los Alamos county has warned fire-weary residents of the flood danger and urged people to keep a three-day survival kit at home in case their neighborhoods are cut off.

``We do face the possibility of getting parts of town isolated for a day or two until we get back across the arroyo or canyon where the road used to be,'' said Capt. Robert Repass, the county emergency manager.

``My understanding is that the normal types of summer monsoons we get, a good hard thundershower, nothing necessarily out of the ordinary, could cause problems,'' he said.

Palmrose said the burn recovery team is mapping the expected danger spots and will draw up recommendations as early as this week for preventing floods, including erecting barriers of hay bales or mesh and crisscrossing fallen trees on the mountainsides to slow the rush or rainwater.

``The heavy clouds that were over the mountains on Friday were a stark reminder of what could happen,'' he said.

The clouds were part of a cool front with spotty showers over the weekend that helped firefighters make progress in the final stage of containing the blaze, which has consumed 47,650 acres (19,060 ha) since it started.

The National Park Service set the blaze on May 4 to burn away underbrush as part of its fire-prevention measures. The fire raged out of control the following day.

Los Alamos Residents Work To Clean Up

By Sunday, officials said the fire was 90 percent contained, with the final front expected to be hemmed in by Wednesday, although it will continue smoking and burning in spots within the perimeter until the summer rains fall.

Smoke rose from behind one of the peaks over Los Alamos as people in the worst-hit neighborhoods that abut the mountains drove by a Red Cross emergency truck to pick up free lunches and gloves, goggles, buckets and brooms for clearing away smoke and fire damage.

``Nobody has time to worry about the rains,'' said Rosemary O'Connor, who has lived in Los Alamos since 1947. Her one-story brick house escaped damaged on a street where others were charred, but she was collecting cleaning supplies anyway because everything in her refrigerator and freezer had gone bad after days without power.

Her neighborhood was spotted with big signs in front yards thanking firefighters for saving the homes they could. People around town wore green ribbons or flew them from their cars and trucks as a sign of thanks to all emergency workers.

``Most people are in a 'let's hurry up and get this done' mode,'' said Patricia Graves, a Red Cross volunteer staffing one of several emergency aid trucks parked in the neighborhoods.

One house down from the truck, as if in agreement, an elderly man with a three-legged walker used his free hand to rake burned grass from his lawn.



Sunday May 21, 2000

SOURCE: Newsweek

Newsweek: Officials Say New Mexico Wildfire Could Have Been Prevented If Those in Charge Acted in the First Few Hours

NEW YORK, May 21 /PRNewswire/ -- Investigators assigned to the wildfire that exploded out of a ``prescribed burn'' inside New Mexico's Bandelier National Monument tell Newsweek that the man in charge, ``burn boss'' Mike Powell, and his superiors may have failed to follow safety procedures designed to prevent just this sort of disaster - and likely could have stopped it altogether had they acted in the first few hours.

For example, Investigative Correspondent Mark Hosenball reports, Powell did not tell ``Zone Dispatch'' (a command center that employs state and federal firefighters to combat wildfires) that the fire was out of control when he called on the morning of May 5. If he had, says one official, ``they would have immediately dispatched'' crews to battle the blaze. Instead, a wildfire wasn't declared for nearly six more hours, Newsweek reports in the May 29, 2000, issue (on newsstands Monday, May 22).


Wednesday May 17, 2,000

Homeowners Seek to Avert Los Alamos-Type Disaster in Los Angeles

SYLMAR, Calif.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--May 17, 2000--With experts warning that California could be facing the worst fire season in decades, leaders of homeowner groups called upon state and local officials to strengthen and modernize the area's fire fighting capabilities. Gordon Murley, President of the San Fernando Valley Federation of homeowners, said, ``The tragic wildfire that consumed Los Alamos in New Mexico should serve as a wake-up call for officials in California. Had the federal agencies had proper aerial support and used it effectively in initial attack, it is possible the Los Alamos tragedy could have been averted. We hope local officials here will take heed.''

For example, Murley and others noted that last December the wildfire above Arcadia was allowed to burn for nearly a week because the U.S. Forest Service refused an offer by Los Angeles County Fire Chief P. Michael Freeman to provide early use of the county's two leased SuperScoopers that had been used so effectively just days earlier in the Glendale-La Canada fire. They cited such lack of cooperation as sowing the seeds of disaster.

While praising much of the preparation by the Los Angeles City and County fire departments, the homeowners urged city and county officials, along with the governor and other state officials, to move forward with efforts to acquire modern technology such as the SuperScoopers rather than simply leasing the aircraft for a meager 60 days. Tony Morris of Topanga declared, ``The current approach is penny wise and pound foolish. With long range weather projections pointing toward warmer and drier conditions for the next decade or more, we need the SuperScoopers here now and here all year round. The county can afford to buy them and even could make money by leasing them to other areas during the off season. The current lease program is like having a flammable warehouse but turning the sprinklers off for ten months out of the year. What are they waiting for?''

Anne-Christine Von Wetter, a member of the California Fire Safe Council, added, ``I wonder why California and the United States trail so far behind the rest of the industrialized world in using modern technology and initial attack aircraft to both fight and prevent wildfires. They don't have New Mexico-type disasters in Europe and we should not have them here.''

The homeowners pointed out that last year was the second-worst fire year in California history, with six people killed, 612 homes and other structures destroyed, and more than 750,000 acres of woodland and watershed charred. They urged officials not to wait for a Los Alamos disaster before acting to prevent one.

Other participants included Kim Thompson of the North Valley Coalition, Gil Wong of the Lake View Terrace Improvement Association, Sam Rotner of the North Valley Homeowners Federation, Andy Anderson of the Northridge Civic Association, and Barbara Inkman of the Sylmar Homeowners.

Contact: San Fernando Valley Federation - Gordon Murley, 818/346-5842


Monday May 15, 2000

More than 47,000 acres destroyed, fire 85 percent contained

MARATHON, Texas (AP) _ Officials say the progress made by firefighters over the weekend in containing a week-old wildfire in the parched Glass Mountains should help them get through the next two days of expected high temperatures, low humidity and strong winds.

``That can always be a dangerous combination, especially with the dry vegetation,'' Texas Forest Service spokeswoman Shelley Huguley said Monday.

The Glass Mountains are in northern Brewster County, about 20 miles east of Alpine, 10 miles north of Marathon and 30 miles south of Fort Stockton. The fire has blackened land in both Brewster and Pecos counties.

More than 380 people worked to get the blaze 85 percent under control and build 46 miles of fire lines over the weekend. So far. the blaze has destroyed about 47,000 acres since it was ignited May 4 by three lightning strikes.

Huguley said firefighters were assisted by higher humidity levels over the weekend.

``It buys you some relief,'' she said. ``It gives you some time to build the line and not necessarily have to fight the fire.''

Now that firefighters feel they have gotten the upper hand, about 150 of them have left to go help battle blazes raging in New Mexico and Florida.

The forest service hopes to have the West Texas fire contained by Wednesday, Huguley told the San Angelo Standard-Times.

``They are not done,'' Huguley said. ``This is just a stopping point.''

(Copyright 2000 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


Thursday June 29, 2000

Wildfire Burns at Washington Nuclear Reservation

SEATTLE (Reuters) - A rapidly spreading wildfire ignited by a fatal car accident burned out of control on the Hanford nuclear reservation in southeastern Washington on Thursday, damaging buildings and forcing the evacuation of several thousand people in towns near the installation.

No nuclear-related facilities at the Hanford reservation were in immediate damage from the fire, and maps of the blaze showed it remained west of anything potentially sensitive, said Don Aunspaugh, a spokesman for the Department of Energy Hanford Joint Information Center.

The fire on Wednesday forced the evacuation of some 2,500 residents in the town of Benton City on the Yakima River, about 10 miles west of Richland, he said.

Some of the 8,000 residents of nearby West Richland also were evacuated on Wednesday but were later allowed to return to their homes, he said.

There were no confirmed reports of injuries caused by the blaze, Aunspaugh said, but about 25 houses and other structures in Benton City were damaged.

President Clinton and Energy Secretary Bill Richardson were been notified of the fire by state authorities, Aunspaugh said.

The fire was ignited on Tuesday by a fatal collision near the intersections of state highways 240 and 24 on the Hanford reservation. It began spreading rapidly out of control on the sagebrush plain on Wednesday evening.

The 560-square-mile nuclear reservation on the Columbia River was created as part of the Manhattan Project in the 1940s that developed the first atomic bomb.

It was a plutonium production complex for four decades and is now involved in the world's largest environmental cleanup project.

Last month a huge wildfire in New Mexico raced across the Los Alamos reservation that houses the United States' premier nuclear weapons laboratory.

The destruction of the vegetation in the Los Alamos area caused concerns that seasonal rains could sweep radioactive-contaminated soil into the Rio Grande River.


Thursday June 29, 2000

Wildfire Rages at Wash. State Nuclear Site

By Scott Hillis

SEATTLE (Reuters) - Hundreds of firefighters struggled to contain a fast-moving wildfire on Thursday on the Hanford nuclear reservation in southeastern Washington state, where the flames threatened radioactive waste sites and forced the evacuation of thousands of people.

The fire, ignited by a fatal car crash on Tuesday, had been partially contained by Thursday morning after scorching 151,000 acres, or a third of the sagebrush plain that makes up the reservation, Michael Minette, a spokesman for the Hanford Joint Information Center, said.

The 560-square mile reservation, set up during the 1940s to process plutonium for the Manhattan Project that built the first atomic bombs, has recently launched a massive radioactive waste clean-up project.

``There are no Hanford facilities in imminent danger or that are considered threatened. The fire is considered 40 percent contained on the Hanford site,'' Minette said.

However, firefighters were worried that winds, forecast to blow up to 30 mph, could fan the flames across the bone-dry brush toward the nuclear areas.

``That could all change with a wind shift,'' said John Bickford, another Information Center spokesman. ``That's why we're all still a little leery here.''

Heart of America Northwest, a watchdog group that follows the Hanford clean-up project, said the fire could sweep dangerous levels of plutonium into the air if it strayed into contaminated areas.

``If the fire reaches contaminated radioactive soil sites, it could create serious radiation health hazards for firefighters, workers and the public,'' the group said in a statement.

A Department of Health official said at a news conference, radiological crews were monitoring the area for signs of unusually high levels of radiation but so far had found nothing abnormal.

The fire prompted Washington State Governor Gary Locke to declare a state of emergency in Benton County, about 150 miles southeast of Seattle, and mobilize scores of National Guard to help evacuate residents and aid in crowd control.

Locke was heading to the area to survey the damage and meet with disaster officials and residents who had lost their homes, a spokeswoman for the governor said.

Some 750 firefighters, toughing it out amid temperatures of 100 degrees, were on the front lines of the fire and would be reinforced by another 250 firefighters later in the day, Minette said.

Five airplanes and eight helicopters were also fighting the blaze, the second wildfire in a month to threaten a U.S. nuclear facility. Last month a huge blaze in New Mexico raced across the Los Alamos reservation that houses the country's premier nuclear weapons laboratory.

The destruction of the vegetation in the Los Alamos area caused concerns that seasonal rains could sweep radioactive-contaminated soil into the Rio Grande River.

The Hanford fire on Wednesday forced the evacuation of 7,000 residents from the towns of Benton City and nearby West Richland. Officials said 36 homes and other structures had been damaged in Benton. Some residents were able to return home by Thursday morning.

One 49-year-old man was in critical condition after being airlifted late on Wednesday to a Seattle hospital with third-degree burns.

Despite assurances that nuclear-related buildings on the Hanford site were in no immediate danger, Minette said the facility was operating with a skeleton crew. Officials said earlier that 1,700 workers had been sent home and only 65 remained.

State officials earlier notified President Clinton and Energy Secretary Bill Richardson.

The fire was ignited on Tuesday by a collision between a car and a trailer truck near the intersections of state highways 240 and 24 on the reservation. It spread rapidly out of control on the sagebrush plain on Wednesday evening.


Friday June 30, 2000

US Energy Sec'y Says Nuclear Site Fire Controlled

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Energy Secretary Bill Richardson said on Friday a wildfire that swept through Hanford nuclear reservation in southeastern Washington state had been brought under control and there was no risk of contamination.

Richardson said in interviews on morning television shows that emergency response plans had worked at Hanford but there was still some concern about heavy wind gusts.

``There has been no damage to any of the nuclear sites, no air or ground contamination has taken place,'' Richardson told NBC's ``Today'' show.

Asked whether the heavy wind gusts would spread soil contamination, Richardson said measures had been taken to ensure this would not happen.

``I firmly believe that our fire control plan ... has worked and the fire has been contained,'' he said.

Richardson told ABC's ``Good Morning America'' program that Hanford was the largest radioactive waste and nuclear material site in the United States and his department had to be ``extra prepared'' to deal with any problems.

``These are the nuclear weapons that won us the Cold War and they are remnants that are stored here ... We believe they are adequately protected,'' Richardson said.

Richardson said damage from the fires had been minimal so far, adding that 20 homes had been destroyed. The fire was ignited by a fatal car crash on Tuesday and scorched 151,000 acres (61,130 hectares), or a third of the sagebrush plain that makes up the Hanford reservation.

The 560-square mile (1,400-sq km) reservation, set up during the 1940s to process plutonium for the Manhattan Project that built the first atomic bombs, has recently launched a massive radioactive waste clean-up project.

The blaze is the second wildfire in a month to threaten a U.S. nuclear facility. In May, a huge blaze in New Mexico raced across the Los Alamos reservation that houses the country's premier nuclear weapons laboratory.

Los Alamos has also come under the media spotlight due to a nuclear secrets scandal involving the temporary disappearance of two computer hard drives holding classified nuclear weapons secrets.

The Los Alamos scandal led to calls for the resignation of Richardson, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and New Mexico congressman.

Richardson strongly dismissed calls for him to quit, telling NBC: ``I don't walk away from a fight.''

``What we have here is a problem that needs to be fixed. I'm going to get to the bottom of this,'' he said.

Richardson said that in two years he had done more to improve security at the country's nuclear weapons labs than in the past 20 years combined.

Asked directly if had any plans to resign, Richardson said: ''Absolutely not''.

Richardson has also been criticized for mounting gasoline prices, especially in the Midwest where prices have soared in recent weeks.

Richardson said his department was still trying to get more gasoline onto the market and he expected a gradual decrease in prices over the next few months.

Thursday June 29, 9:24 am Eastern Time

Company Press Release

Bombardier Aerospace: Canadair 415 Offers the Most Effective Way to Combat Wildfires

MONTREAL, QUEBEC--The arrival of Canada's annual wildfire season highlights the value of modern firefighting strategies - including rapid initial attack - to protect the safety of human, natural and business resources.

In many countries and most parts of Canada, the initial attack firefighting weapon of choice is the world's only purpose-built amphibious waterbomber, the Canadair 415®.

When the alarm sounds, the Canadair 415 is dispatched immediately to attack the fire while it is in its initial stages. By delivering more than 100,000 litres of water and fire-suppressing foam in an hour, assuming a distance of 3 km between the fire and the nearest lake, the Canadair 415 provides a quick and massive strike that knocks down the fire so that initial attack fire crews can safely attack the fire and put it out while still small.

Unlike conventional air tankers used in firefighting, the Canadair 415 doesn't have to land and refill its tanks after every drop. Instead, the aircraft simply skims the surface of any suitable body of water and scoops a full load (approximately 6,000 litres) in just 12 seconds. In August 1999 an Ontario 415 fighting a fire near Geraldton, Ontario established a new waterbombing record, delivering 97 loads of water and foam in just over 3.2 hours. The aircraft's daily tally later climbed to 167 drops totalling 600 tonnes (600,000 litres) of water and foam.

Said Tom Appleton, president, Bombardier Aerospace, Amphibious Aircraft, ``A few aircraft can drop more water in a single load but none can match the Canadair 415's overall productivity.

That comes from being designed specifically for firefighting. Conventional tanker aircraft have been converted from other uses, typically military and commercial transports. These aircraft have provided good service but they don't offer the same capability and when lives, property and valuable resources are at stake, you want the most effective equipment available.

The importance of a strong and decisive initial attack is highlighted by the recent project fires near Los Alamos, New Mexico.``

Jack Mc Fadden, director of aviation, fire and flood management for the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources explained the initial attack concept: ``The idea is simply to prevent little fires from getting out of control and becoming big ones. That means responding quickly with an effective, integrated air and ground attack as soon as a fire is discovered and delivering a substantial counterpunch.

``The cost of fighting a large, escaped fire - known as a project fire - is absolutely huge and so is the value of the natural and other resources lost in a big fire. These values make it highly cost-efficient to use the Canadair 415 for initial attack: in support of ground firefighters,'' he said.

The Canadair 415 is the new-generation version of an aircraft that first saw service in the late 1960s, the Canadair 215. Ontario currently operates nine Canadair 415 aircraft and Quebec has eight. The aircraft is also in service around the Mediterranean, in France (11), Italy (13), Croatia (three) and Greece (three in service, seven on order). In addition, southern California's Los Angeles County leases aircraft from Quebec for its fall fire season, fighting fires driven by the strong and dry Santa Ana winds. These fires devastated parts of the region in 1993, destroying hundreds homes and causing damage estimated at hundreds of millions of dollars. Quebec's aircraft have also been operated under lease in Arkansas and North Carolina in the United States and in Portugal, Mexico and Argentina.

More than 72 of the earlier, piston-powered Canadair 215 aircraft remain in service, including 33 in Canada: Newfoundland (6), Quebec (4), Manitoba (7), Saskatchewan (6), Alberta (6) and NWT (4).

One of the aircraft's earliest customers, the Spanish Air Force, has achieved a milestone 100,000 flight hours with the aircraft; it now operates Canadair aircraft converted to turbine power and designated Canadair 215T.

In addition to delivering a powerful initial attack on wildfires in remote and urban-interface areas, the Canadair 415 has proven itself a capable performer in other firefighting applications. In mid-August 1999, a Greek 415 was deployed to regain control of a large-scale refinery fire at Izmet, Turkey following the massive earthquake there that destroyed more than 600,000 buildings and claimed more than 30,000 victims.

The roles of the Canadair 415 are not limited to fire fighting. The aircraft's ability to fly at low speed and low altitude with great manoeuvrability and to land on water also make it an ideal aircraft for search and rescue, coastal patrol and transport to remote areas, particularly in Canada where lakes and rivers abound.

Said Mr. Appleton, ``There simply isn't another aircraft that can do so much, so quickly. Speed of response is critical and time lost is the worst enemy.''

Bombardier Aerospace, a unit of Bombardier Inc., is the leading business, regional and amphibious aircraft manufacturer. With full design and production capabilities in three countries, it offers the most comprehensive families of turboprop and regional jet aircraft and the widest range of business jets. It also provides the Flexjet fractional business aircraft ownership program, technical services, aircraft maintenance and pilot training for business, regional airline and military customers.

Bombardier Inc., a diversified manufacturing and service company, is a world leading manufacturer of business jets, regional aircraft, rail transportation equipment and motorized recreational products. It is also a provider of financial services and asset management. The Corporation employs 56,000 people in 12 countries in North America, Europe and Asia, and more than 90 per cent of its revenues are generated outside Canada. Bombardier's revenues for its fiscal year ended Jan. 31, 2000, totalled Cdn$13.6 billion.

(R) Registered trademarks of Bombardier Inc.

Note to editors:

Last year, due to mild temperatures and comparatively light snowfall, most of Canada experienced an unusually extended wildfire season that began in late April and continued into September, according to The Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre (CIFFC) in Winnipeg.

In the early part of the season, particularly in Ontario and Manitoba, fire managers faced unseasonably warm, dry conditions. When confronted by the many human-caused fires early in the season, CIFFC was required to locate and mobilize large numbers of professional firefighters to augment provincial resources not yet up to full strength.

Northern portions of Alberta, Saskatchewan and the Territories remained warm and dry well into August, and many fires escaped initial attack measures. One fire escaped containment efforts near La Ronge (in north-central Saskatchewan) and destroyed 10 homes and a number of commercial installations. Total 1999 interface fire losses in Saskatchewan amounted to more than $2.2 million, the highest in Canada.

Despite the difficult start and the extended length of the 1999 fire season, Canadian losses nationally were down, compared to 10-year averages: 7,591 fires (a 15-per cent decrease), and 1.7 million hectares (a 49-per cent decrease).

Early predictions for the 2000 fire season saw continuing warm, dry conditions, with little snow cover from the previous winter.


Bombardier Aerospace - Alain Bergeron- (514) 855-7987

or Bombardier Aerospace - Raymond Mathieu - (514) 855-7635


Friday July 7, 2000

Firefighters in Colorado Try to Get Ahead of Blaze

DENVER (Reuters) - Hoping to prevent an out-of-control wildfire from reaching several homes and historic uranium mining structures in a small western Colorado town, firefighters on Thursday began setting fires ahead of the blaze to choke off its fuel supply.

``Fire suppression plans for the day include the use of aerial ignition from helicopters to stop the fire from reaching the town of Gateway,'' said Justin Dombrowski, spokesman for the Upper Colorado River Interagency Fire Management Team.

Dombrowski said flames from the Cone Mountain fire have spread to within two miles of the town of Gateway, which is five miles from the Utah border.

The fire also threatens power lines and a communications site used by the Colorado Highway Patrol and highway department road crews.

Smoke from the Cone Mountain blaze hovered over the city of Grand Junction, Colo. 38 miles away. Ignited by a lightning strike about noon on Monday, the fire is about 20 percent contained and has consumed 4,100 acres.

Dombrowski said strong winds and drought-like weather conditions have contributed to the fire's spread. ``The vegetation is drier than ever recorded for this time of year,'' he said.

The Cone Mountain blaze is one of three wildfires burning in western Colorado this week that have set 14,800 acres ablaze. The two other fires are on Colorado's remote northwest plateau near its tri-state borders with Utah and Wyoming, and are not threatening homes or any other buildings.


Wednesday July 19, 2000

Hill Country fires spark warnings

MEDINA, Texas (AP) _ Dry conditions and a fast-moving wildfire near Medina have prompted Hill Country officials to put out warnings on the area's high fire risk.

A fire that started Sunday about seven miles north of Medina burned nearly 500 acres and threatened 28 homes before it was put out Tuesday.

Larry LaForte, a regional fire coordinator for the Texas Forest Service, said the Medina fire and several others he fought since Friday were believed to be caused by people.

``We're rapidly approaching extreme fire danger and everybody needs to be very cautious,'' LeForte told the Austin-American Statesman.

The outbreak of fires in the area over the last few days led Bandera County Judge  Richard Evans to issue a disaster declaration on Monday.

A burn ban also was enacted Monday by Kerr County commissioners and a similar measure soon will be brought before Kendall County commissioners.

A Texas Forest Service analysis shows that without precipitation, extreme fire danger conditions are expected to persist throughout much of South, Central and Southeast Texas.

``The trend is increasing and the potential for fires that exceed local response capabilities will continue to grow,'' Tom Spencer, risk assessment coordinator, said in a report released Tuesday.

(Copyright 2000 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


Friday July 21, 2000

New Artifacts Found in Colorado's Mesa Verde Blaze

DENVER (Reuters) - Archeologists accompanying crews battling a wildfire out of control at the Mesa Verde National Park on Friday uncovered hidden ancient Indian artifacts, officials said.

``The archeologists are very excited,'' said Elaine Simo, spokeswoman for the National Park Service.

Simo said the 12 scientists at the park, best known for its spectacular ancient Indian cliff dwellings, were securing and taking inventory of the find and have not yet detailed what items were uncovered.

The blaze, whipped up by gusty 20 mph winds, grew to 3,500 acres from 1,500 acres earlier in the day. The park was closed to visitors on Thursday when the blaze was ignited by lighting. The fire was 5 percent contained by Friday evening.

Hundreds of local, state and national firefighters are on the scene attempting to contain the fire, along with aerial water tankers and helicopters. The blaze is being fueled by tinder-dry pinon and juniper trees.

Mesa Verde is located in southwest Colorado, near the remote Four Corners region, the only place in the United States where four states meet: Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico.

Some of the ancient cliff dwellings at the park are believed to be 800 years old. The blaze has not threatened any of the known dwellings in the 52,000 acre park, or nearby homes.

Simo said 20 residents with homes in the general vicinity of the flames were given the option to evacuate, and about 10 left the area.

Other residents are cutting fire lines on their properties, which should help firefighting efforts on the public lands, she said.

In 1996, another wildfire at the park damaged hundreds of Indian sites, but also uncovered more than 300 new ones.

Because of the park's archeological treasures, scientists are on site year-round, and whenever a fire breaks out teams of archeologists and structural engineers are deployed with fire crews to ensure the ruins are not damaged by firefighting  equipment.

About 750 campers and tourists were evacuated from the park Thursday, when a lightning strike on private land just outside the park's northeast rim ignited the blaze.

Centuries after the original cliff dwellers left the Mesa Verde area, Pueblo Indians began filtering into the region to inhabit the dwellings, and referred to the original cliff dwellers as the Anasazi, or Ancient Ones.


Friday July 21, 2000

Colorado Fire Doubles in Size

By P. SOLOMON BANDA, Associated Press Writer

MESA VERDE NATIONAL PARK, Colo. (AP) - Fire crews called in reinforcements to battle a 3,500-acre wildfire that doubled in size Friday, spreading quickly across tinder-dry mesas and canyons and forcing the evacuation of 1,000 tourists from Mesa Verde National Park.

About 350 firefighters, aided by slurry bombers, were fighting flames in rugged, steep terrain on the eastern boundary of the park, about 260 miles southwest of Denver.

Wind-whipped flames sent a gray curtain of smoke into the sky Friday. ``Oh, my! It's grown,'' said Jane Anderson, who works for the park and lives nearby.

The fire was not threatening any of the cliff dwellings and mesa villages built by Pueblo Indians up to 1,400 years ago.

But 14 archaeologists traveling with fire crews discovered some new archaeological sites - mounds of rubble that once were walls - that were exposed when the flames burned away vegetation.

The fire, apparently caused by lightning, broke out on the eastern boundary of the 52,000-acre park on Thursday. It raced through juniper, pinon and oak brush, burning within a mile of the single road through the area.

National Park Service officials said the park would probably remain off-limits to tourists through the weekend.

The canyon walls are so steep that firefighters had difficulty reaching the flames. Officials said the fire was so intense it was creating powerful updrafts, in effect making its own weather rather than being pushed by winds.

Elsewhere in the West, firefighters conquered two wildfires that blackened more than 100,000 acres of remote rangeland in north-central Nevada.

But their comrades remained busy on two other large fires - a blaze about 200 miles northeast of Reno that had grown to 10,000 acres and a fire exceeding 4,000 acres in central Nevada.

Meanwhile, the fire that burned more than 47,000 acres, leveled more than 200 homes and burned portable buildings at New Mexico's Los Alamos nuclear weapons lab was finally extinguished completely.

The fire began with a prescribed burn set May 4 by the National Park Service. The cost of fighting it has been pegged at $8.6 million.

Nearly 56,000 fires have burned 2.8 million acres across the nation this season, according to the National Interagency Fire Center in Idaho. That is the highest total since 1996.


On the Net:

Fire center:

Mesa Verde National Park:

Western Great Basin Coordination Center:


Sunday July 23, 2000

Colo. Fire Spreads to Indian Land

By P. SOLOMON BANDA, Associated Press Writer

MESA VERDE NATIONAL PARK, Colo. (AP) - Firefighters struggled to contain a 6,000-acre wildfire that burned into the nearby Ute Mountain Ute reservation as a second fire broke out about 40 miles to the northwest.

The new fire forced some evacuations Saturday and diverted planes and firefighters from the Mesa Verde fire.

``We're running short on resources,'' said Deb Koening, spokeswoman at an interagency fire dispatch center in Durango.

Wildfires also burned in Southern California - including a 5,000-acre blaze in a remote canyon in Death Valley National Park - and consumed 70,000 acres in eastern Oregon.

Mesa Verde remained closed indefinitely. More than 500 firefighters were on the scene, but only about 250 were deployed on the fire lines because of the difficulty of getting into the steep-sided canyons.

About 1,000 tourists were evacuated Thursday after the fire started, apparently from a lightning strike.

It was 5 percent contained Saturday night.

``When they get this big, you don't put them out,'' said U.S. Park Service fire management officer Tim Oliverious. ``It will take a major change in the weather, topography or fuels, and right now the forces are lined up in favor of the fire.''

None of the park's well-known ancient Indian ruins, cliff dwellings or other attractions were damaged, and buried archaeological sites in the area of the fire were expected to survive, Oliverious said.

The fire was burning on the park's rugged eastern boundary, about 260 miles southwest of Denver. It moved south into remote Ute reservation land, said Justin Dombrowski, a spokesman for the fire management team.

No serious injuries were reported.

The new fire had burned 150 acres by Saturday evening and forced the evacuation of 10 homes northwest of Mesa Verde, near the Hovenweep National Monument, said Lt. Kalvin Boggs of the Montezuma County Sheriff's office.

In Southern California, the Death Valley fire started in desert grass and brush in Happy Canyon, north of the small desert community of Trona, said Tom Sensintaffar, manager of a federal interagency communications center. Flames then spread into higher elevations and into the park.

The area's steep terrain and limited road access mean the fire must be fought primarily from the air, he said. Hundreds of firefighters were on the scene.

No injuries were reported, and the park remained open, spokeswoman Nancy Wizner said. The cause of the blaze was unknown.

Smaller fires burned west of Santa Clarita, east of Temecula, and in Cleveland National Forest in San Diego County.

In Oregon, firefighters contained a 70,000-acre fire that burned near Boardman after gusty winds died down. High temperatures and winds moved the flames quickly through dry grassland in two counties after the blaze broke out late Saturday morning.

The blaze had threatened several had threatened several farm houses and closed a highway in the remote area, but there were no reports of injuries or property damage, officials said. The cause was unknown.

Firefighters were battling three other large fires in northwestern Colorado, at least two of them caused by lightning.

The largest was burning on 1,500 acres about seven miles east of Rangely and threatened two trailers and two cabins. It was 10 percent contained Saturday.

Nearly 56,000 fires have burned 2.8 million acres nationwide this season, according to the National Interagency Fire Center in Idaho, the worst acreage total since 1996.


Sunday July 23, 2000

Hot, Dry Weather Fans Colorado, Calif. Wildfires

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - As firefighters in Colorado struggle with a wildfire near Mesa Verde National Park, new fires, including a 3,000-acre blaze in California's Death Valley, have sprung up, officials said on Sunday.

Fanned by dry winds and fueled by tinder-dry juniper and pinon, the Mesa Verde fire covered about 6,000 acres and was about 15 percent contained as of early Sunday, the Rocky Mountain Incident Command team said.

``It's just too early to say right now when it will be contained. The fire is still spreading,'' said Brian Petersen, a spokesman with the command team.

Two historical structures within the park -- a cabin and a fire lookout tower -- have been damaged and numerous homes and other structures are threatened.

Mesa Verde is a 52,000-acre park in the remote Four Corners area about 275 miles southwest of Denver.

It is the site of hundreds of ancient Indian ruins and artifacts. The most spectacular cliff dwelling sites are not threatened by the fire, park officials said.

The blaze, now burning on federal, private and Ute Indian Reservation land, has caused smoke to settle into surrounding valleys, and residents with respiratory conditions are being advised to remain indoors.

The fire was ignited by lightning on Thursday on private land just outside the park's northeast rim. About 750 visitors were evacuated and the park, a favorite of international tourists because of the historic ruins, remains closed.

In Southern California, firefighters battled a more than 3,000-acre blaze of unknown origin that started Saturday afternoon in a the remote Happy Canyon area of Death Valley National Park.

Temperatures in the region were forecast to reach as high as 116 degrees Fahrenheit Sunday afternoon and officials had no estimate for when the fire would be contained.

So far, firefighters were being deployed by helicopter because of the rugged terrain, but 20 smoke jumpers -- who parachute into an area near the fire -- have been ordered, said Jim Wilkins, a spokesman for the Southern California Incident Command Team.

``We are competing for resources with about six other fires in the region,'' he said.

Smaller blazes were reported in the Sequoia and Los Padres National Forests in northern California, as well as parts of San Diego County, Wilkins said.


Monday July 24, 2000

Mesa Verde Fire Burns 17,000 Acres

By P. SOLOMON BANDA, Associated Press Writer

MESA VERDE NATIONAL PARK, Colo. (AP) - Hundreds of firefighters struggled against hot weather and rough terrain as they battled a fierce, fickle wildfire that continued to rage Monday through the nation's largest archaeological preserve.

The fire in Mesa Verde National Park nearly tripled in size in 24 hours, charring 17,000 acres by Sunday night. The blaze sent ash raining down on surrounding towns and a plume of smoke towering 40,000 feet into the sky.

``It's moving. It's a big, powerful fire,'' said Justin Dombrowski, a spokesman for the team fighting the fire. ``Right now, it's moving so fast and so far that it puts everything in that park at a greater threat.''

The effort to contain the blaze was hobbled by rough terrain as flames ripped over mesas and into canyons inaccessible to firefighters, he said.

Fires at high elevations - much of the park is above 8,000 feet - usually quiet down as temperatures drop overnight. But officials said Monday morning that the fire continued to expand through the night. Prospects for the rest of the day were even bleaker.

``The weather is just like it was yesterday and the fuels are just like they yesterday,'' said Ron Hodson, another fire spokesman. Temperatures were expected to be in the 90s with low humidity.

No major structural damage had been reported Sunday, but the fire was only a few miles from the ruins known as Cliff Palace, the park's major attraction.

The fire started Thursday, apparently from a lightning strike. The park was closed indefinitely.

Wildfires also burned in Southern California, including a 5,500-acre blaze in a remote canyon in Death Valley National Park. Near Oroville, Wash., a wildfire consumed more than 7,300 acres and destroyed six homes.

At Mesa Verde, where Anasazi Indian dwellings were discovered in the cliffs hundreds of years ago, the wildfire has uncovered at least a dozen previously unknown sites as it strips away concealing vegetation.

``It's a bit of a tradeoff,'' said Jane Anderson, a National Park Service archaeologist. ``It's exciting to see the new ruins and get that information, but at the same time, fire can destroy these sites.''

A fire in the park in 1996 damaged a petroglyph carved into a rock wall by cliff dwellers more than 1,000 years ago,

A dozen archaeologists were accompanying firefighters to help identify new sites and protect them if possible.

A second fire, about 25 miles northwest of the park, burned 600 acres and forced the evacuation of nearby residents. It was 30 percent contained by Sunday evening. The cause of the blaze remained under investigation.

Three other fires burned more than 3,500 acres in northwestern Colorado. One of the blazes, near Rangely, was 40 percent contained Sunday.

Nearly 56,000 fires have burned 2.8 million acres nationwide this season, according to the National Interagency Fire Center in Idaho, the largest acreage total since 1996.


Monday July 24, 2000

Mesa Verde Fire Burns 22,000 Acres

By P. SOLOMON BANDA, Associated Press Writer

MESA VERDE NATIONAL PARK, Colo. (AP) - A furious wildfire grew dangerously out of control Monday as it roared through canyons and moved toward the heart of the nation's largest archaeological preserve.

Fire crews fought the 22,000-acre blaze at Mesa Verde National Park in southwestern Colorado with the help of archaeologists who walked along in front to pinpoint ancient sites that need special protection.

More than 600 firefighters toiled in 90-degree temperatures against a blaze that sent flames 200 feet in the air and created plumes of smoke that were visible for miles.

``That smoke plume that you see there is not just a plume going up into the sky. It is extreme energy. This is awesome power that we're looking at,'' said fire management team spokesman Justin Dombrowski. ``If you put somebody in front of those 200-foot flames, they are going to die. If you dump slurry on it, you've just wasted your retardant because there's nothing you can do to slow the fire.''

The fire's advance was slowed, however, when it ran into two areas denuded by earlier wildfires.

``Finally, a break. This is something we've been looking for for days,'' Dombrowski said.

The fire started Thursday after an apparent lightning strike and has since cut a swath 8 miles long and 4 miles wide, fueled by tinder-dry trees and shrubs. No injuries or major structural damage have been reported.

The fire was moving quickly toward the nation's largest archaeological preserve, just 4.5 miles from the ruins known as Cliff Palace, a major park attraction that was built by Pueblo Indians between 600 and 1300 A.D.

The wildfire has uncovered several previously unknown sites, stripping away covering vegetation. But the blaze poses considerable danger as it threatens the ancient ruins.

Archaeologists are marking the sites with color-coded flags that denote new and previously identified sites. After the fire is out, they will survey and research the area.

``We're putting together the pieces of the puzzle of how people who have been gone for hundreds of years live,'' said National Park Service archaeologist Jane Anderson. ``You make your best guess on what you can find and we're finding a lot.''

A fire in the 52,000-acre park in 1996 damaged a petroglyph carved into a rock wall by cliff dwellers more than 1,000 years ago.

Across the West, dozens of other wildfires burned out of control. Fires in Southern California, Washington, Montana and New Mexico wiped out tens of thousands of acres.

A pair of lightning-strike wildfires in northeastern Washington had blackened 13,000 acres by Monday, destroying 30 homes and forcing evacuation of dozens of people.

Near Helena, Mont., a pair of wildfires straddling Canyon Ferry Lake and pushed by gusty, hot winds were burning out of control Monday, charring at least 10,000 acres and threatening as many as 100 homes.

Additional manpower poured onto the lines of a 44,000-acre fire burning in the central Idaho backcountry near the Montana state line.

Fires have burned nearly 3 million acres nationwide this season, the largest acreage total since 1996, according to the National Interagency Fire Center in Idaho.


Thursday July 27 , 2000

Raging Fires Straining Resources

By JUDITH KOHLER, Associated Press Writer

DENVER (AP) - Expecting no relief for months in the West's brutal and unrelenting fire season, federal officials have called out the military to help contain blazes that are charring tens of thousands of acres from Washington to Texas.

More than 70 fires burned across parts of 10 Western states on Wednesday, racing through timber, grass and brush.

About half of the smaller fires had no crews on hand at all. In some cases, calls for help with wildfires have been delayed or unfilled for days because resources have been devoted to major fires.

``Here we are approaching the end of July and already resources are thin,'' said Amy Teegarden, a Forest Service spokeswoman in Helena, Mont. ``We're just now getting into what is normally the busy fire season.''

The wildfire season, which began when a prescribed brush-clearing fire near Los Alamos, N.M., raged out of control and destroyed more than 200 homes in May, has become the worst since 1996. The long-range forecast calls for much more hot, dry weather before the season ends, typically with the autumn's first snowfall.

Elite hot-shot firefighting crews, air tankers and helicopters are in big demand. Federal authorities have asked Canada to send firefighting planes; they've also asked Montana Gov. Marc Racicot to encourage businesses and state agencies to let employees volunteer for fire duty.

``There's more to do than can be done, then when something like two large fires hit you, it gets worse,'' said Joe Hartman, a fire management team commander on the  blaze that has charred 23,000 acres of Mesa Verde National Park in southwestern Colorado.

In hopes of gaining ground on the fires, Army soldiers will attend crash courses in firefighting techniques organized by the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho. Center spokeswoman Lorraine Buck said the soldiers should be ready to join fire lines next week.

The last time the fire center mobilized military units was in the summer of 1996, using 1,160 soldiers. Fires that year had burned 3 million acres by July 25; so far this year, fires have burned 2.6 million acres. Buck did not know how many soldiers would end up on lines.

The fire in the Mesa Verde National Park, the nation's largest archaeological preserve, was 40 percent contained Wednesday. Among the other large fires in the West are a pair of wildfires totaling 18,000 acres near Helena, Mont., that have forced dozens of families from their homes; and a 9,500-acre lightning-sparked fire in northeastern Washington state that has charred more than 30 structures.

Buck, of the fire center in Idaho, said another setback is that summer monsoons have not hit Arizona and New Mexico, so the fire danger remains high. That has strained resources there because firefighters are being called to help other states.

``We'll get skeleton thin - just a bare bones minimum - but we'll reach a threshold where we'll say, `Sorry, we have to keep these folks here,''' said Gary Benavidez, fire management officer for the Gila National Forest in southwestern New Mexico, where about a dozen lightning-ignited fires were burning Wednesday.

Overall, about 5,600 federally financed firefighters are in the field - in addition to those from state and local agencies.

In Idaho, Gail Baer of the Forest Service said this is the first year she has seen firefighting crews recruited from as far away as Maine, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Georgia to help with her state's blazes.

``That's why we have a shortage, because everybody is busy on a fire,'' said Vi Hillman of the Bureau of Land Management in Utah. ``We are stretched pretty thin.''


Thursday July 27, 2000

Montana Fire Grows; Some Evacuated

By SHANNON DININNY, Associated Press Writer

HELENA, Mont. - Two wildfires east of Montana's capital city swelled to some 24,000 acres Thursday as investigators confirmed one of them was started by discarded charcoal briquettes from a home barbecue.

The fires have driven more than 300 families from their homes and destroyed 36 buildings, including nine houses and 27 outbuildings, fire information officer Kimberly Landl said. Some who fled the fire along the west shore of Canyon Ferry Lake were allowed to return home Thursday.

In Colorado, about 1,000 firefighters doused smoldering flames in the charred landscape of Mesa Verde National Park after deeming safe the historic cliff dwellings in the nation's largest archaeological preserve.

With lines built around 70 percent of the 23,000-acre fire, firefighters hoped to contain it fully by the weekend so they could release crews to battle other blazes in the West.

``We feel real good about this fire,'' said Bobby Kitchens, a fire management team spokesman. ``It's not dead, but it's not running on us.''

The Montana fire on the east side of the Canyon Ferry Lake burned farther northeast into the Big Belt Mountains Wednesday night, prompting residents of the mountain community of York to flee.

While investigators confirmed that charcoal briquettes from a home barbecue started the fire Sunday afternoon on the western shore, Landl said, officials think the other fire also may have been man-caused.

Officials estimated the cost of fighting the two fires at $1.3 million by Wednesday evening.

The growing firefighting force had surpassed 1,000 Thursday, according to Forest Service spokesman Dave Turner. They were supported by seven helicopters, two air tankers, 36 engines and 15 volunteer fire department engines.

Fire bosses have requested an additional 200 National Guard members to undergo basic firefighting training. They will be deployed against the fires as 20-member hand crews, Landl said. One-hundred-and-fifty Guardsmen and Reservists were already at work on security, a medical camp and helicopter water drops.

Among those able to return home along the western shore, Irene Waling found her  garage with several restored antique cars, a boat, camper and tractor destroyed.

Still, she wasn't complaining; the house was still standing.

``When we had to leave here, I didn't think we'd have anything to come back to,'' she said. ``It could have been a lot worse.''

Exactly how many families were able to return Thursday was uncertain, but Landl said more than 300 families had registered with two evacuation shelters. Only 22 people stayed in the shelters Wednesday night.

Firefighters across Utah struggled to contain more than 11,000 acres of fire Thursday while monitoring another 10,000 acres that already burned to ensure fires don't re-ignite.

The largest fire began Wednesday morning on Stansbury Island, in the Great Salt Lake, and had burned about 5,100 acres by early Thursday, the Bureau of Land Management reported.

In Washington state, a wildfire in Klickitat County grew to 4,800 acres Thursday, destroying three structures and threatening as many as 14 homes.

A 9,500-acre fire that burned 33 homes in northcentral Washington was reported 95 percent contained.

In Arizona, firefighters battled several blazes, the largest of which raced across 3,600 acres of brush on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation about 150 miles northeast of Phoenix. An Apache teepee filled with ceremonial items was destroyed, but no other structures were threatened.

The wildfire season, which includes a devastating blaze that raged out of control and destroyed more than 200 homes in Los Alamos, N.M., in May, is the worst since 1996. The long-range forecast calls for much more hot, dry weather before the season ends.


Friday July 28, 2000

Wildfire Hits Near Nuclear Facility

IDAHO FALLS, Idaho (AP) - The nation's worst fire season in four years grew worse Friday as an 18,000-acre blaze near the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory forced hundreds of evacuations.

Some 1,800 employees were ordered out of three buildings at the sprawling eastern Idaho complex as a precaution, said Jason Bohne, a lab spokesman. There were no injuries.

No widespread damage has been reported at the 890-square-mile facility, but Bohne said a small fire ``went into'' a reactor test area before it was contained.

The blaze, which began Thursday and was fanned by 28-mph wind gusts, is the third to threaten a facility with nuclear material in as many months. Fire struck the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico in May and a huge fire swept across the Hanford nuclear reservation in southeastern Washington last month.

Both raised concerns about the release of radioactive material, from rain washing contaminated soil into New Mexico's streams to airborne particles in Washington state. Federal officials have said there has been no danger, though air samples showed an increased - but not harmful - concentration of plutonium in public areas outside the Hanford reservation. Idaho lab officials said tests were being performed.

There were also evacuations in California, where a fire has blackened 19,000 acres of the Sequoia National Forest, creeping up to several homes on the forest's  borders early Friday. More than 100 residents were forced to evacuate the area 120 miles north of Los Angeles. No injuries have been reported.

``This fire has shown extreme behavior,'' Forest Service spokesman Tony Diffenbaugh said.

The fire season is the worst since 1996. More than 59,000 fires have burned 3 million acres, according to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise. Four years ago, the total was 3.1 million acres by this date.

For the first time since then, the fire center has called in Army soldiers for training and eventual posting on the fire lines. Elite hotshot firefighting crews, air tankers and helicopters are in big demand.

Firefighters, meanwhile, have made progress against two huge fires in Colorado and Montana.

In Mesa Verde National Park, Colo., a 40-mile fire line was keeping a 23,000-acre wildfire from spreading. The fire in the nation's largest archaeological preserve was 70 percent contained late Thursday, fire spokesman Bobby Kitchens said.

Park Superintendent Larry Wiese said the park could reopen next week. Its well-known attractions - Balcony House, Cliff Palace, Spruce Tree - have not been damaged.

Firefighters also were inching toward containing the Cave Gulch Fire, which has burned about 17,500 acres east of Helena in Montana's scenic Canyon Ferry Lake region. About 300 families have been forced to evacuate the area because of that blaze and one nearby.

The fires have also destroyed 36 buildings, including nine houses.


Thursday July 27, 2000

Crews Getting Upper Hand at Mesa Verde Blaze

DENVER (Reuters) - Crews battling a wildfire at the Mesa Verde National Park had the blaze 40 percent contained Thursday and the park's archeological treasures appeared safe from encroaching flames, fire officials said.

``The Indian ruins aren't in jeopardy, but if the winds pick up there could be flare-ups so we're keeping a close eye on it,'' said Dawn White, spokeswoman for the U.S. Park Service.

The blaze is about 275 miles southwest of Denver, and has scorched 22,909 acres of park, private and Ute Mountain Ute Indian Reservation land.

Flames from the fire came within four miles of the park's premier attractions, the Cliff Palace and Balcony House ruins, sandstone structures built by Anasazi Indians hundreds of years ago.

Cooler weather and subsiding winds over the past two days have allowed the 837 firefighters on site to make progress on the fire, White said.

Colorado Gov. Bill Owens surveyed the charred park by helicopter Thursday afternoon as crews concentrated on removing brush and other fuels from the fire's perimeter.

While crews at Mesa Verde continue to make headway, White said firefighters are turning their attention to scores of other wildfires ablaze across the western United States.

``There are 57 wildfires larger than 500 acres burning as of this morning,'' White said. ``It's taking a lot of personnel to fight these fires.''

In particular, twin wildfires burning 12 miles north of Helena, Montana, have consumed 23,600 acres and destroyed nine homes and 27 other structures, said Pam Johansen, spokeswoman for the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho.

``Firefighters have contained just 10 percent of the fires, and there's no estimate when that will improve,'' Johansen said.

The town of York, Montana, has been evacuated and the Montana Army National Guard has been mobilized to aid fire crews, she said.


Saturday July 29, 2000

Fire Contained Near Nuke Facility

By BRIAN MELLEY, Associated Press Writer

SEQUOIA NATIONAL FOREST, Calif. (AP) - Firefighters fought to control a 37,000-acre wildland blaze that threatened a rustic mountain village in the Sierra Nevada.

Flames roared Friday to within a half-mile of the 200 homes in Kennedy Meadows, about 160 miles north of Los Angeles.

Anxious residents, who were asked to leave the area, watched through binoculars as flames shot into the sky and thick black smoke poured from a controlled burn that firefighters set to try to halt the blaze's advance.

``I'm just going to stay here and watch and see,'' said Ann McMillan, who has lived in the town for 35 years. ``I can't even take my camera out and take a picture. I'm sick.''

No homes had been lost, but the flames destroyed an abandoned Boy Scout lodge. Eight firefighters suffered minor injuries, mostly sprained ankles or knees from battling the flames in rugged, steep terrain.

To turn back the flames, firefighters bulldozed a trench on one side of the village and then set a fire that burned up a hillside toward the oncoming blaze. Firefighters hoped the controlled burn would deprive the wildfire of the fuel it needed to keep moving.

``We used the fire against itself,'' said Chief Walt Chacon of the California Department of Forestry.

Elsewhere in the West, fires charred wildland in what has become the nation's worst fire season since 1996.

In Idaho, firefighters were able to surround a 30,000-acre blaze Friday that had forced the evacuation of hundreds of employees at a nuclear facility.

Decreasing winds quelled the flames just outside the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory, and Friday afternoon fire crews built a second fire line to contain it.

The lab's Advanced Test Reactor was being repaired and its operations weren't affected, spokeswoman Stacey Francis said. Utility crews were busy replacing 52 electrical poles damaged by the fire, and tests were being done to measure any radioactive release.

A 40-mile fire line was keeping a 23,000-acre wildfire in Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado from spreading.

The Utah division of the Bureau of Land Management said a 12,000-acre fire near Leamington, 87 miles south of Salt Lake City, was about 40 percent contained Friday. At least four fires in the Wasatch-Cache National Forest had burned nearly 2,100 acres.

In Washington, firefighters were able to contain a 6,500-acre range fire in the Columbia River Gorge that had threatened wheat crops and a Yakama Nation ceremonial site. Farmers had cut their own fire trails with tractors, trying to protect crops from the blaze about 12 miles southeast of Goldendale.

``We still have some hot areas the crews want to keep an eye on, but it's looking pretty good,'' said Tammie Wilson, a state Department of Natural Resources spokeswoman.

Firefighters in Montana were nearing containment of a fire that burned about 17,500 acres east of Helena in the scenic Canyon Ferry Lake region and forced about 300 families from the homes.

Wind fueled a 3,500-acre fire on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation in Arizona to 5,000 acres in about three hours Friday.

A makeshift camp for firefighters had to be moved because the fire was advancing unpredictably, said fire spokeswoman Chadeen Palmer. Flames reached heights of 100 feet, and the fire was threatening a power line to the tiny community of Cibecue.


Monday July 31, 2000

Sierra Nevada Blaze Now 63,275 Acres

By BILL MARTINEZ, Associated Press Writer

RIDGECREST, Calif. (AP) - Wildfires raged in 10 Western states Monday, crackling through a half-million acres of timber, bush and brush. One of the biggest fires burned untamed after incinerating seven homes in a Sierra Nevada hamlet.

Nearly 50 blazes have blackened 537,791 acres in Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Washington and Wyoming in the past two weeks.

It's the worst fire season since 1988, when 5 million acres burned in the West, said Michelle Barret, spokeswoman for the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho.

``There were 2.2 million acres burned year-to-date in 1988. We're already at 3.5 million and we're just coming into fire season in most of the West,'' Barret said.

Fire bosses said it would be weeks before some of the blazes could be contained, and dry lightning forecast for Montana, Idaho, Nevada and Oregon was expected to bring more blazes.

``The West is just in a terrible time,'' Barret said. ``Dry lightning doesn't bode well for us. You couldn't write a more dangerous situation than the one we have right now. In this game, weather is everything.''

With at least 10,714 firefighters deployed, resources stretched thin and fatigue setting in, the Pentagon ordered up soldiers from Fort Hood, Texas, and Marines from Camp Pendleton, Calif.,

``Hallelujah!'' Barret said. About 500 soldiers will arrive in Idaho on Tuesday for on-the-job training. About 500 Marines are expected to arrive in Boise on Friday.

The largest wildfire in California, a 63,275-acre inferno in Sequoia National Forest, was burning on the eastern side of the Southern Sierra, 120 miles north of Los Angeles.

Seven homes - including several mobile homes - were destroyed Saturday in the Kennedy Meadows area, a  hamlet at the 6,000-foot-level on the south fork of the Kern River. Accessible only by steep roads, the community is popular for camping and fishing but is so remote it only got phone service last year.

Most of the hamlet's 43 permanent residents fled when flames moved through during the weekend. Those residents were still out of their homes Monday.

Nearly 1,600 firefighters, aided by the water-dropping sorties of 17 helicopters and tankers, had it 15 percent surrounded Monday with full containment estimated Aug. 10. There were 11 minor firefighter injuries.

It was one of six California fires, including a 2,500-acre blaze burning five miles east of Temecula on the Pechanga Indian Reservation and the Agua Tibia Wilderness of Cleveland National Forest. Thirty cabins were briefly threatened.

Some 700 firefighters and a dozen water-dropping air tankers and helicopters had it 10 percent surrounded. Full containment was not expected until Aug. 8.

There were 13 wildfires in Idaho, including the 77,000-acre Salmon-Challis National Forest blaze in the east-central area of the state. In southeast Idaho, the 850-acre West Fork blaze, threatened 10 homes and 10 commercial structures in Lava Hot Springs.

Montana firefighters battled nine fires, including a giant six-blaze complex of fires that blackened 48,700 acres five miles east of Ashland in the southeast corner of the state.

In northeast Nevada, homes were threatened by the lightning-caused 65,778-acre South Cricket grazing land fire 15 miles northeast of Wells. In the southeastern area, another fire burning in 15,500 acres of pinion pine and juniper northeast of Pioche, Nev., also threatened structures.



Tuesday August 1, 2000

Wildfires Rage in 10 Western States

By BILL MARTINEZ, Associated Press Writer

RIDGECREST, Calif. (AP) - Firefighters battling stubborn wildfires that have consumed a half-million acres of timber, bush and brush in 10 Western states are getting help from the military this week.

Nearly 50 blazes have blackened more than 538,000 acres in Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Washington and Wyoming in the past two weeks.

With at least 10,700 firefighters deployed, resources stretched thin and fatigue setting in, the Pentagon ordered up soldiers from Fort Hood, Texas, and Marines from Camp Pendleton, Calif.

``Hallelujah!'' said Michelle Barret, spokeswoman for the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho. About  500 soldiers were expected to arrive in Idaho on Tuesday for on-the-job training. About 500 Marines are expected to arrive Friday.

This year is shaping up to be the worst fire season since 1988, when 7.4 million acres were consumed nationwide.

``There were 2.2 million acres burned year-to-date in 1988. We're already at 3.5 million and we're just coming into fire season in most of the West,'' Barret said.

Fire bosses said it would be weeks before some of the blazes are contained. Dry lightning forecast for Montana, Idaho, Nevada and Oregon was expected to ignite even more fires.

``The West is just in a terrible time,'' Barret said.

The largest wildfire in California, a 63,270-acre inferno in Sequoia National Forest, was burning on the eastern side of the Southern Sierra, 120 miles north of Los Angeles.

Seven homes were destroyed Saturday in the Kennedy Meadows area, a remote hamlet at 6,000 feet, and there were 11 minor firefighter injuries. Most of the hamlet's 43 permanent residents fled over the weekend and were still out of their homes Monday.

``There were 30- to 40-foot high flames. I thought my uniform was going to melt,'' firefighter Robert Cisneros said.

It was one of six California fires, including a 3,000-acre blaze burning five miles east of Temecula on the Pechanga Indian Reservation and the Agua Tibia Wilderness of Cleveland National Forest.

In Idaho, 13 wildfires were burning, including the 77,000-acre Salmon-Challis National Forest blaze. In southeast Idaho, the 850-acre West Fork blaze, threatened 10 homes and 10 commercial structures in Lava Hot Springs.

Montana firefighters battled nine fires, including a giant six-blaze complex that has blackened 48,700 acres five miles east of Ashland in the southeast corner of the state.

In northeast Nevada, homes were threatened by the lightning-caused 65,775-acre South Cricket grazing land fire 15 miles northeast of Wells. In the southeastern area, another fire burning in 15,500 acres of pinion pine and juniper northeast of Pioche, Nev., also threatened structures.


Wednesday August 2, 2000

US Forest Fires Burn 3.5 Mln Acres, Near 30-Yr High

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Over 3.5 million acres have burned so far this year in forest fires in the West, with conditions in place to make this year's fire season the worst in 30 years, the National Weather Service said on Wednesday.

An estimated $300 million has been spent to combat the wildfires, which stretch from the northern Rockies to southern California, with costs increasing at about $15 million a day, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said on Wednesday.

``We have activated all available resources to ensure that we protect lives and property as we deal with one of the worst fire seasons in many years,'' said Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman.

Major wildfires continue to burn in Arizona, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Utah, Idaho, California and Wyoming.

Glickman said there are more than 15,000 people fighting those fires and the government is working with the armed forces, eastern states and Canada to marshal additional fire-fighting resources.

Record heat, dry lightning and low humidity have created ''perfect conditions'' for forest fires, the USDA said.

The National Weather Service said the 10-year average for wildfire burns for the year to date is about 2 million acres, and if conditions fail to improve the summer of 2000 is on track to become the worst fire season in 30  years.

The agency's six- to ten-day outlook calls for above normal temperatures with little or no precipitation in the West. With August historically the worst month for fires and fire-fighting resources stretched thin, the USDA expects conditions to deteriorate.

Five people have died from heart attacks and other health conditions aggravated by the fires, which have destroyed property and forced some to evacuate, the USDA said.


Thursday August 3, 2000

27 New Wildfires Begin in U.S. West

By LEN IWANSKI, Associated Press Writer

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - Nearly 300 families in the scenic Bitterroot Valley of southwestern Montana stayed away from their homes as an estimated 90 wildfires blazed in nearby mountains Thursday, and across the West about 60 large fires covering more than 637,500 acres burned.

``Things are not improving, I have to be honest and say  that,'' said Ed Waldapfel, a spokesman for the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho. ``Even though we are having some successes, we're having more fires start each day than we are getting fires put out.''

Waldapfel said 27 new fires started Wednesday night across the West.

Forest Service Chief Mike Dombeck toured the Idaho and Montana fire lines to review the safety of fire crews and pledged that they will be given adequate resources.

``This is top on our radar screen,'' Dombeck said after meeting with fire strategists.

Canadian firefighters are on the lines, and resources have been stretched so thin that federal officials were considering bringing in crews from Mexico and technical experts from Australia. The government is spending $15 million a day to support 20,000 civilian and military firefighters from 46 states and Canada. Some are working 36-hour shifts - or longer.

Nearly 62,000 wildfires have been reported across the nation this year, scorching more than 3.7 million acres, and Assistant Interior Secretary Sylvia Baca called it the worst fire season in 50 years.

``We're thinking this is shaping up to be a reference point for years to come in terms of its severity,'' said Baca, who oversees the federal Bureau of Land Management which manages 264 million acres of public land in the West.

Baca, who was in Seattle on Thursday, said the population  in the West has risen dramatically in the past decade so there are more homes and structures to fuel fires. She said the season could last for at least another month.

In Montana, the agency tallied 13 large fires on 171,000 acres. Temperatures in the 90s persisted, with low humidity, sporadic winds and thunderstorms that brought dry lightning and many new fires.

U.S. 93, the main north-south route through the Bitterroot Valley, was reopened Thursday at Lost Trail Pass on the Montana-Idaho border. But southwest of Missoula, U.S. 12 from Lolo Hot Springs to the Idaho border was closed because of fiery debris and smoke.

Two new fires burned in the Elkhorn Mountains south of Helena. About three dozen homes were evacuated in the tinder-dry woods north of Basin and near Boulder along Interstate 15.

The 13-day-old fire near Canyon Ferry Lake, east of Helena, was about 45 percent contained Thursday and had burned 25,670 acres.

About 1,300 hundred people were assigned to fight the fire, including 272 Montana Army and Air National Guard troops who worked their first shifts on the fire lines Wednesday after undergoing firefighter training.

In eastern Montana, the fire 20 miles northwest of Jordan near the Fort Peck Reservoir began Wednesday night and quickly spread to an estimated 1,000 acres. It burned a vacant ranch house and some outbuildings and threatened another ranch home, said Roxanne Falise, a Bureau of Land Management staffer.

Firefighters had contained or were nearing containment on several other large fires in eastern Montana, but thousands of dry lightning strikes created a risk for new fires.

Elsewhere, firefighters across Utah battled nearly 55,000 acres of wildfires - including more than 48,000 acres in the Fishlake National Forest - as they waited for reinforcements from the Utah National Guard.

Smoke from the dozens of fires hung over the Wasatch Front, nearly obscuring the mountains around Salt Lake City. The smoke boosted ozone concentrations in Salt Lake City to its highest level in more than a decade.

Fires have burned more than 20,000 acres in Wyoming in the past week. In the state's northwest corner, near Jackson, 200 people who were evacuated had to stay away from their homes.


Friday August 4, 2000

Firefighters Lose Ground in Montana

By LEN IWANSKI, Associated Press Writer

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - Scores of wildfires have forced beleaguered firefighters to give up ground as officials across western Montana  warned people to stay inside and out of the thickening smoke.

Fifteen major fires were burning on 100,000 acres in the state, and hundreds of homes were evacuated in the Bitterroot Valley, where heavy smoke cut visibility on stretches of highways to zero.

In Nevada, a firefighting helicopter crashed near Elko, killing one crew member and injuring three other people shortly after takeoff late Thursday. One crew member remained in serious condition Friday; the pilot and a fuel truck driver who ran to help were treated and released.

In all, nearly 62,000 wildfires have been reported across the nation this year, scorching nearly 3.8 million acres. In Seattle, Assistant Interior Secretary Sylvia Baca called it the worst fire season in 50 years.

``We're thinking this is shaping up to be a reference point for years to come in terms of its severity,'' said Baca, who oversees the Bureau of Land Management and its 264 million acres of public land in the West.

Baca said the population in the West has risen dramatically in the past decade so there are more homes and structures to fuel fires. She said the season could last for at least another month.

There were more than 60 large fires burning Friday across more than 650,000 acres of the West, and forecasts called for continued dry and hot conditions with the potential for lightning-packed thunderstorms.

More than 300 families have been forced out of their  homes in the Bitterroot Valley, a lush stretch of land in southwestern Montana along the Idaho line. The Blodgett Trailhead fire northwest of Hamilton grew to 1,700 acres and there were additional evacuations Thursday. County officials have declared a state of emergency because of the smoke.

``The increased fire activity is being experienced throughout the forest, and in some areas firefighters have been forced to come off the fire lines,'' Bitterroot National Forest officials said.

Fire conditions were predicted at the worst possible level, known as ``red flag,'' Friday, with temperatures in the 90s and blustery winds. The entire southwestern Montana zone raised its fire-danger rating to ``extreme'' on Thursday. It previously reached that level in 1994 and 1988, officials said.

Farther south, near Jackson, Wyo., a brief downpour  Thursday slowed a 3,100-acre wildfire, but 200 people were no closer to returning to their homes, cabins and campsites in the Bridger-Teton National Forest on Friday.

The lack of rain in northwestern Wyoming is close to what it was in 1988, the year of the devastating Yellowstone National Park fires.

In central Idaho, nearly 600 soldiers from Fort Hood, Texas, wrapped up two days of firefighter training and streamed into already burned areas of the Burgdorf Junction fire to begin mopping up.

The soldiers' arrival freed up experienced firefighters to battled the stubborn blaze that had ballooned to 17,000 acres by Friday. Six Blackhawk helicopters joined the crew, dropping water and flame retardant on hotspots.

Outside Reno, crews corralled a fire that damaged six homes even as other lightning-sparked blazes flared up across northern Nevada - some burning virtually unchecked.

Gary Zunino, northern regional manager for the Nevada Division of Forestry, said the number of people and equipment to battle the flames was dwindling.

``The fires are going to move fast and get big fast,'' he said. ``Everybody in the West is fighting for the same resources.''

Forest Service Chief Mike Dombeck toured the Idaho and Montana fire lines Thursday and promised adequate resources for fire crews.

``This is top on our radar screen,'' Dombeck said.

Approximately 20,000 civilian and military firefighters are at work from 46 states and Canada. In Montana, 270 Army and Air National Guard troops worked their first shifts this week after a crash course in firefighting.

Elsewhere, firefighters across Utah battled nearly 71,000 acres of wildfires - including more than 57,000 acres in the Fishlake National Forest - as they waited for reinforcements from the Utah National Guard.


Montana wildfires overwhelm firefighters

By LEN IWANSKI, Associated Press

HELENA, Mont. (August 4, 2000 2:50 p.m. EDT - Dozens of wildfires have forced beleaguered firefighters to give up ground as officials across western Montana warned people to stay inside and out of the thickening smoke.

Fifteen major fires were burning on 100,000 acres in the state, and hundreds of homes were evacuated in the Bitterroot Valley, where heavy smoke cut visibility on stretches of highways to zero.

In Nevada, a firefighting helicopter crashed near Elko, killing one crew member and injuring three other people shortly after takeoff late Thursday. One crew member remained in serious condition Friday; the pilot and a fuel truck driver who ran to help were treated and released.

In all, nearly 62,000 wildfires have been reported across the nation this year, scorching nearly 3.8 million acres. In Seattle, Assistant Interior Secretary Sylvia Baca called it the worst fire season in 50 years.

"We're thinking this is shaping up to be a reference point for years to come in terms of its severity," said Baca, who oversees the Bureau of Land Management and its 264 million acres of public land in the West.

Baca said the population in the West has risen dramatically in the past decade so there are more homes and structures to fuel fires. She said the season could last for at least another month.

There were more than 60 large fires burning Friday across more than 650,000 acres of the West, and forecasts called for continued dry and hot conditions with the potential for lightning-packed thunderstorms.

More than 300 families have been forced out of their homes in the Bitterroot Valley, a lush stretch of land in southwestern Montana along the Idaho line. The Blodgett Trailhead fire northwest of Hamilton grew to 1,700 acres and there were additional evacuations Thursday. County officials have declared a state of emergency because of the smoke.

"The increased fire activity is being experienced throughout the forest, and in some areas firefighters have been forced to come off the fire lines," Bitterroot National Forest officials said.

Fire conditions were predicted at the worst possible level, known as "red flag," Friday, with temperatures in the 90s and blustery winds. The entire southwestern Montana zone raised its fire-danger rating to "extreme" on Thursday. It previously reached that level in 1994 and 1988, officials said.

Farther south, near Jackson, Wyo., a brief downpour Thursday slowed a 3,100-acre wildfire, but 200 people were no closer to returning to their homes, cabins and campsites in the Bridger-Teton National Forest on Friday.

The lack of rain in northwestern Wyoming is close to what it was in 1988, the year of the devastating Yellowstone National Park fires.

In central Idaho, nearly 600 soldiers from Fort Hood, Texas, wrapped up two days of firefighter training and streamed into already burned areas of the Burgdorf Junction fire to begin mopping up.

The soldiers' arrival freed up experienced firefighters to battled the stubborn blaze that had ballooned to 17,000 acres by Friday. Six Blackhawk helicopters joined the crew, dropping water and flame retardant on hotspots.

Outside Reno, crews corralled a fire that damaged six homes even as other lightning-sparked blazes flared up across northern Nevada - some burning virtually unchecked.

Gary Zunino, northern regional manager for the Nevada Division of Forestry, said the number of people and equipment to battle the flames was dwindling.

"The fires are going to move fast and get big fast," he said. "Everybody in the West is fighting for the same resources."

Forest Service Chief Mike Dombeck toured the Idaho and Montana fire lines Thursday and promised adequate resources for fire crews.

"This is top on our radar screen," Dombeck said.

Approximately 20,000 civilian and military firefighters are at work from 46 states and Canada. In Montana, 270 Army and Air National Guard troops worked their first shifts this week after a crash course in firefighting.

Elsewhere, firefighters across Utah battled nearly 71,000 acres of wildfires - including more than 57,000 acres in the Fishlake National Forest - as they waited for reinforcements from the Utah National Guard.


Western Wildfires Going Wild

Thursday, Aug. 10, 2000

An area half the size of Maryland has been consumed by wildfires out West already this season, twice the average for an entire year.

The number of firefighters ­ civilian and military, domestic and foreign ­ battling those blazes is three times greater than the population of the average-size city in the United States.

So far, the fires are winning, and it's more than a battle of statistics. At risk are homes, businesses, campgrounds, park land, trees, shrubs, wild animals, birds, even fish ­ everything that nature has offered and mankind has built in the path of the searing infernos of fire and smoke.

Not to mention human beings who don't make it out of harm's way in time or are injured or die trying to fight back the flames.

Throughout the West, temperature is high, humidity low, "dry" lightning active, and frustration mounting.

As Reuters news service is reporting: "It hasn't gotten any better," said Ed Waldapfel, a spokesman for the National Fire Information Center in Boise, Idaho.

"We are still experiencing dry thunderstorms with no rain, and the lightning is starting new fires.

"In the past week we have contained 75 large fires, and we contain several hundred smaller fires per day. But it is the 5 percent that we don't catch that are turning into these large fires."

Relief from those toughest fires may not come until winter. Authorities are warning that some of the worst wildfires could keep right on burning and destroying until the first snow falls, covering and soaking the tinder, robbing it of the oxygen that fuels the flames.

If it keeps on like this, authorities say, the 2000 fire season could rival the record years, when as many as 8 million acres went up in flames.

In 11 Western states ­ Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming ­ out-of-control blazes, roaring like runaway locomotives, are leaping from tops of turpentine-rich trees to others, exploding and cracking like wartime firefights of a different order.

Among those states, Montana has been hurt especially cruelly. There, Gov. Marc Racicot issued an executive order placing an estimated 300,000 acres in the southwestern part of his state off limits to public use.

In Montana's Bitterroot Valley south of Missoula, nearly 200,000 acres were ablaze, more than 1,000 people ordered evacuated.

More United States troops, including the National Guard in Oregon, are being rushed through five-day firefighting training, then moved onto fire lines. Canada and Mexico are sending help. More is on the way from as far away as Australia and New Zealand.

Altogether, 25,000 firefighting personnel are struggling, and the cost to federal taxpayers is running around $15 million each day.

At whatever cost, many Westerners are looking at no benefits. One is them is Bob Olsenslager, who lives ­ or lived ­ in East Fork, Mont.

"I've already come to the conclusion I'm going to have nothing to go back to but a piece of black land," he told a local reporter.


Thursday August 10, 2000

Power Lines Melt As Montana Fires Rage

HELENA, Mont. (Reuters) - Wildfires raged across the U.S. West on Thursday as Montana officials closed a territory larger than the size of the state of Vermont to public use in an effort to stop more blazes from starting.

Fire control officials said 65 large fires were burning in 11 western states. With resources stretched to the limit, teams of firefighters from Australia and New Zealand were expected to join the battle over the weekend as U.S. officials sought to reassure the firefighting teams that their lives had not been put in jeopardy by budget cuts.

Despite the conflagration which burned out two major power transmission lines and left some Montana towns so dark with smoke that daytime drivers had to use headlights, officials said efforts to contain the fires were making headway.

``For the first time in a long time we are ahead of the game, we are getting fires contained,'' said Mary Stansell of the National Fire Information Center.

In Montana, the hardest hit state, Gov. Marc Racicot ordered as much as eight million acres of public and private land closed to public use except by special permit as of midnight on Thursday.

``Conditions are such that it is dangerous for the public to be in forested areas because of the possibility of being trapped by a fast-spreading fire,'' Racicot said in ordering the closure, which covered an area of roughly 12,500 square miles -- bigger than Vermont and larger than the European nation of Belgium.

Officials also reported that two 500 kilovolt power lines which carry power from the Colstrip coal-fired plant in Montana to demand centers in the west had been destroyed by fire heat so intense it melted the aluminum on the lines.

Officials at the Bonneville Power Administration said the lines outside of Helena went down late Wednesday, and were likely to remain down for the foreseeable future. Power was being redirected through other lines.

Stansell, working out of the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, said a total of almost 850,000 acres (345,000 hectares) were burning around the country, with the worst blazes in Montana and Idaho.

The total area burned this year has hit about 4.3 million acres, making it the worst fire season to date in nearly 50 years. Dry, hot conditions, combined with the continued threat of dry lightning strikes, made it likely that more fires would continue to break out, officials said.

In a piece of good news, firefighters reported they had fully contained a fire in the Sequoia National Forest in California after 20 days. ``The good thing about that is that those 1100 people who were working on that fire will be available to work on other fires now,'' Stansell said.

Firefighters also reported progress against a wildfire in Colorado which had threatened the historic Mesa Verde National Park, site of famous relics and cliff dwellings built by Anasazi Indians hundreds of years ago. That fire was expected to be fully contained by Friday.

Help was also coming from overseas as Australia and New Zealand sent 79 experienced crew bosses to help lead fire teams, Stansell said. The Australians and New Zealanders, who will join Canadian and Mexican specialists already helping the 25,000-person army of U.S. firefighters and support personnel, were due to arrive on Friday for orientation.

In Washington, officials at the U.S. Bureau of Land Management on Thursday downplayed concern that budget cuts had left firefighting teams ill-trained and understaffed.

``No, the lives of our firefighters and the public were not jeopardized,'' spokeswoman Lorraine Buck said, reacting to an official memo which had warned of possible repercussions from recent budget cuts. ``Regardless of the size of our fire fighting budget, we would not place anyone at risk.''

The focus of concern remained Montana, where firefighters were concentrating on battling a complex of blazes roaring through the Bitterroot Valley south of Missoula, where an estimated 1,000 people have been evacuated.

Roaring walls of flame which firefighters described as sounding like racing jet engines have consumed more than 50 homes in the area, and teams were struggling to coat the remaining structures with fire-retardant spray in an effort to keep losses to a minimum.


Friday August 11, 2000

Firefighters Race to Quell New U.S. Wildfires

BOISE, Idaho (Reuters) - Devastating wildfires raged across the Western United States on Friday as firefighters raced to knock out new blazes sparked by a night of lighting strikes across the burning region.

Fire control officials said 64 large blazes were burning in 11 western states in the worst fire season in nearly 50 years. With high winds predicted, firefighters are trying to get a jump on any new lightning-sparked fires before they spiral out of control.

``Because of those winds fires will grow faster and it is important to knock them out right away,'' said Mary Stansell of the National Fire Information Center.

Help was also scheduled to come with the arrival on Friday of 79 experienced crew bosses from Australia and New Zealand who will lead a battalion of Army engineers called in to fight the fires.

In Montana, the hardest hit state, as much as eight million acres of public and private land -- an area the size of the state of Vermont -- remained closed to public use expect by special permit.

Stansell, working out of the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, said more than 900,000 acres were burning around the country.

So far the total area burned this year has hit about 4.4 million acres, making it the worst fire season to date in nearly 50 years. Dry, hot conditions combined with the predicted winds also made it likely that even more blazes would break out.

But there was some good news, Stansell said. Firefighters were able to contain 14 fires on Thursday, freeing up reinforcements to battle the biggest blazes raging in Idaho and Montana.

``We are making headway,'' she said. ``We are able to move fire crews from one fire to another.''

There has also been good progress against a Colorado wildfire which had threatened the historic Mesa Verde National Park, site of famous relics and cliff dwellings built by Anasazi Indians hundreds of years ago. That fire was 90 percent contained and none of the archeological sites have been damaged, Stansell said.

But the focus remained on Montana, where firefighters were battling a complex of blazes roaring throughout the Bitterroot Valley south of Missoula, where an estimated 1,200 people have been evacuated.

Roaring walls of flame which firefighters described as sounding like racing jet engines have destroyed more than 50 homes in the area as teams struggled to coat the remaining structures with fire-retardant spray in a effort to minimize the losses.

One of two major Montana power lines severed by fire on Wednesday was still down, and was expected to remain out of service for two or more days. The other line was brought back into service on Thursday, and was carrying about 1900 megawatts, just below its capacity. Both lines bring power from the Colstrip coal-fired plant in Montana to the west coast, some areas of which have faced repeated electricity crises due to a heat wave that has created strong demand for air conditioning.


Saturday August 12, 2000

Wildfires Kills Firefighter

By ROBERT W. BLACK, Associated Press Writer

THERMOPOLIS, Wyo. (AP) - A wind-fueled wildfire engulfed a fire truck on the Wind River Reservation near here, killing one firefighter and injuring another.

The firefighters, who identities were not released, on Friday were the only crew members battling a portion of fires in the Owl Creek Mountains which have burned about 38,000 acres in the sparsely populated central Wyoming. Flames roared over their fire engine and one firefighter was killed at the scene, said Perry Baker of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The second was hospitalized for burns and smoke inhalation and was listed in stable condition, Baker said.

A multi-agency team including the Bureau of Land Management and Bureau of Indian Affairs were investigating the death, he said.

Five other firefighters have died while working forest fires this year - one each from Arizona, Florida and South Dakota, and two from Texas.

In Idaho, where flames had engulfed more than 423,280 acres, an air tanker working to douse a 2,000-acre blaze went down in the Salmon River on Friday. The pilot did not suffer any injuries.

Lightning started more fires across the region on Thursday and Friday.

The Forest Service said there were 2,200 known lightning strikes in the southwestern area of Montana and in neighboring Idaho. In northwestern Montana, the Kootenai National Forest had 70 new fires sparked by lightning, but only 18 firefighters.

Six lightning-sparked fires on Friday turned into two larger blazes totaling 5,000 acres in Washington's Klickitat County, but firefighters kept the flames from spreading to a handful of remote homes.

Gov. Gary Locke on Friday banned outdoor and agricultural burning across the state due to extreme fire conditions and a shortage of firefighters and resources.

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.

``We have reached a turning point in an unprecedented fire season where firefighting needs have exceeded available resources,'' said Ann Morgan, BLM state director. ``We cannot afford a human-caused fire in Colorado.''

In Montana, fires have burned over 187,210 acres and nearly 2,000 residences in the popular Bitterroot Valley have been evacuated, the Bitterroot National Forest said Friday night. More than 50 dwellings have been destroyed.

About 1,600 firefighters and support personnel are battling the three major fire complexes in forests surrounding Hamilton, Darby and Sula.

In the southern Bitterroot Valley, tempers flared Friday when U.S. Forest Service officials met with about 270 residents, some of whom accused firefighters of incompetence for setting a backfire that burned their houses.

``It was careless disregard for life. It was arson and attempted murder,'' said Joan Giles. Her house and about a dozen others burned Sunday when fires blew up south of Darby.

Forest Service officials promised an investigation.

Other fires in Montana include two in the Boulder Hill area, south of Helena, that have forced hundreds of evacuations. Scores of small, new fires were reported Friday as a result of lightning strikes from passing thunderstorms the night before.

Firefighters from throughout the United and Canada have joined efforts in the West. Military troops are on fire duty, and retired fire managers have been asked to return. Seventy-nine firefighters from Australia and New Zealand were to join Idaho crews this weekend.

In Montana, an estimated 1,800 students firefighters, including National Guard members and volunteers, were told Friday they could report for fall classes three weeks late if they stay on fire lines.

``These students are putting themselves at risk to protect our environment, and it is appropriate that we assist them in their efforts,'' said Richard Crofts, state commissioner of higher education.

Classes are scheduled to start Sept. 5 at the University of Montana, but student firefighters will have until Sept. 25 to register, officials said.

Renewed firefighting efforts have yielded signs of progress.

Fire managers in New Mexico and Oregon reported all major fires contained on Friday. In California, the 11,734-acre Pechanga Indian reservation fire was contained late Thursday.


Sunday August 13, 2000

British Columbia Firefighters Battle 300 Wildfires

TORONTO (Reuters) - Firefighters in British Columbia, Canada's largest timber-producing province, were battling fires in the southeast corner on Sunday that threatened popular hiking and camping sites, fire officials said.

Provincial fire information officer Steve Bachop said about 300 wildfires were burning in a wide area in the southeast, triggered by a vicious lightning storm three days ago.

The area is close to the Montana border where 430 Canadian firefighters are also battling lightning-sparked fires that have destroyed vast private and public land the size of the state of Vermont.

The fires have been burning since last week in 11 Western U.S. states in the worst fire season in nearly 50 years.

``We're still reeling from the effects of that storm,'' Bachop told Reuters, adding that the fires were sparked by 2,000 lightning strikes recorded over 12 hours of the storm.

He said the British Columbia blazes had destroyed about 1,730 acres (700 hectares) along popular camping and hiking routes. About 500 firefighters were involved in trying to contain the blazes.

He said no homes had been destroyed, there had been no reports of injuries and no area had yet been closed to the public.

Warm, dry conditions were aggravating the situation and no rain is forecast until possibly late next week, Bachop said. Fires in British Columbia are common this time of year with volatile weather patterns.

``We're trying to urge caution and common sense in the back country to make sure people fully extinguish camp fires and cigarettes,'' Bachop added.


Monday August 14, 2000

Firefighters Take On Wildfires

By SHANNON DININNY, Associated Press Writer

HAMILTON, Mont. (AP) - As a three-mile-long wall of flames roared across a ridge overlooking a small town north of here, the St. Joe Hotshots were furiously digging trenches to halt the fire's spread.

The ensuing lull as the fire retreated over the next few days was a welcome respite for a weary crew that's been battling blazes since May 12.

Based in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, the St. Joe Hotshots received their first call that day to report to a fire in the Grand Canyon. Since then, they've fought another 16 fires across the West.

One of the most savage is in Bitterroot Valley, where one cluster of fires south of Hamilton had burned 112,000 acres and another north of Hamilton had charred 8,700 acres by Sunday.

``I would consider this the most extreme fire behavior we've seen so far this season,'' said crew leader Rory Laws. ``We've been a day late and a dollar short on this fire.''

Due to the high number of fires across the country and a lack of firefighting resources, all 65 U.S. hotshot teams are currently battling blazes. They work 14 days on, two days off, and then immediately report to a new location.

This summer has provided a stiff test of the St. Joe crew's love of their jobs.

``My wife used to be a firefighter, so she knows what the job entails,'' said squad leader Shawn Pearson of Coeur d'Alene. ``But I can really only pick about five or six days since May that I've spent at home.''

Crew member Glenn Tingley, also from Coeur d'Alene, said he accepts that he'll rarely see his wife and two children during the summer.

``My daughter just turned 9,'' he said. ``I've been to one birthday of hers because it falls in the summer.''

The 20-person crew, 17 men and three women, ranges in age from 21 to 45. They eat, sleep and work together for five months of every year - and understand that as much as they love their jobs, family and friends are eagerly awaiting their return.

The memories of close calls are always with them.

``Hanford,'' said Harmony Hammons, 21, when asked to name a crisis the crew confronted this season.

Tears welled in her eyes, and her crewmates nodded in agreement.

``It was chaos,'' Hammons said. ``I've been fighting fires for three years, but this is my first year on a hotshot crew, and it was definitely more than I'd seen before.

``We had to run a couple of times. It really makes you think about things.''

Laws said the rapid-burning fire, which consumed half of the 560-square-mile Hanford nuclear reservation in Washington in June, forced the team more than once to set backfires. By deliberately setting a fire, firefighters can create a safe area devoid of fuel for the main fire.

Lately the crew has been working at night - when the temperatures are cooler and the fire quieter - to build fire lines and try to keep blazes from reaching homes and businesses.

But that makes sleep elusive in the heat of the day. Last week, temperatures topped 95 degrees.

Nonetheless, the crew continues its hard work.

``They go into an area where you're convinced there's no way a line can be built,'' said fire information officer Linda Williams. ``Thirty minutes later they've cleared everything and built a wide line. I don't think people realize that what they do is backbreaking labor.''

The St. Joe Hotshots average about 800 hours of overtime a year, and each can work as many as 220 hours in two weeks.

Because of the location of the fires in the Bitterroot Valley, many fire lines have had to be built on steep cliffs and high ridges.

``They're not men, they're mountain goats,'' said Patrick McGinty, a member of an Alaskan crew that has been working with the Hotshots.

One of the younger Hotshots, Kris Nelson, admitted his parents are still waiting for him to get a ``real'' job.

Pearson laughed. ``I've been saying that for 10 years, and I'm still at it. By September, I almost hate it, at the end of a long season. But March rolls around and I'm dusting the boots off ready to go again.''


Monday August 14, 2000

Fort Hood soldiers hit Montana fire lines

By Linda P. Campbell, Star-Telegram Staff Writer

FORT HOOD -- Come in from the blistering heat and grab a bright yellow rucksack. Pick up a couple of flame-resistant Nomex yellow shirts and two pairs of green Army pants.

Add a pair of leather gloves and a box of goggles. Toss a pair of water bottles into a plastic hard hat, tuck it under your chin and pick up a yellow box about the size of the latest Harry Potter book.

Once you pack that gear and finish about 10 hours of training, Soldier, you're ready to help fight the blazing wildfires that are ravaging the American West.

About 560 soldiers from Fort Hood finished two days of training during the weekend and headed yesterday for Missoula, Mont., where they'll be deployed to the Lolo National Forest to back up civilian firefighters.

"We know it's going to be dangerous, but we know we've got to do it," Spc. Tara Correa, 24, said of the firefighting mission.

Seven firefighters have been killed battling wildfires in the West.

"It's not going to go away by itself," said Correa, a veteran of the Bosnia peace-keeping mission.

The Montana fires began in late July and have destroyed 169 buildings, including more than 50 homes. Montana officials estimate that 2,439 houses have been threatened. South of Helena, families had to flee 270 homes because of two fires in the Elkhorn Mountains, but they were allowed to return yesterday.

More than 365,000 acres of Montana had burned as of yesterday.

Sgt. Vincent Smith, 28, from Forest Hill, called the firefighting assignment "a chance to help people that need help." But it is taking him away from family members who have not seen much of him lately.

Smith moved to Fort Hood two months ago from Fort Benning, Ga., but his wife and twin 3-year-old daughters did not arrive until a couple of weeks ago.

Smith said his family is disappointed that he is leaving, but "they know this is what I do."

The soldiers of the 20th Engineer Battalion of the 1st Cavalry Division are the third military battalion assigned to fight wildfires this year and the first one headed for Montana.

There were 76 fires burning yesterday across the West, according to a Web site maintained by the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho. At least 18 new large fires were reported Friday, and about 923,500 acres have been blackened.

Firefighters from Canada, New Zealand and Australia are also assisting.

"It's a big challenge for us," said Lt. Col. Jim Shumway, the battalion commander leading Task Force Lumberjack from Fort Hood.

A group from the base near Killeen has already been helping firefighters in Idaho.

Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Barnes, 31, of Pennsylvania said he volunteered to join the latest mission.

"I want to retire to Montana," Barnes said. "I want to make sure it's still there."

Barnes, a 13-year Army veteran, served several months in Bosnia last year. "I didn't see a lot of danger over there, so this will probably be the most dangerous thing I've done," he said.

Much of the soldiers' work will be physical and exhausting -- clearing brush that can fuel fires, cutting trees along the fire lines to contain the blazes and putting out small fires.

Staff Sgt. John Pitts III, who went on a firefighting mission to Idaho in 1994, said the soldiers worked anywhere from nine to 13 hours a day. That firefighting effort was not unlike Operation Desert Storm, which involved digging foxholes and other labor, he said.

"This is closer and nearer and dearer to my heart," said Pitts, who is from Omaha, Neb. "We're actually fighting for our home team."

More than 35 professional firefighters have been integrated into the military units. They have been training the soldiers and are accompanying each crew in Montana, Shumway said.

The instruction included watching videos on fire safety, discussion of weather effects on fire and practice climbing into a fire shelter.

The soldiers learned about avoiding dangers -- such as rolling rocks, falling trees and hidden hornets nests. They studied the hazards of direct sunlight in a valley, relative humidity, fuel moisture and thunderstorm downdrafts.

They are also in for more training in Montana before they are sent out to fight any blazes.

On Saturday, Brian Lauber, a military trainer from Arizona, carefully explained the value of the fire shelter, which can save a life -- even though it could get as hot as 150 degrees inside.

The shelter, which is stored in a book-sized box, opens into a foil-backed tent that looks something like an adult version of that aluminum foil cover for the holiday turkey.

It is used when escape from a quickly moving blaze is not possible. The firefighter basically unfolds the tent, steps into it and drops to the ground, face down, holding the shelter down using feet and hands. It can be a fumbling exercise with the wind blowing -- which it usually is around an inferno.

Jim Bass, a fire management specialist from the National Interagency Fire Center, said, "It is our intention never to put them in a situation that they even might need it.

"We'll suppress those fires to the best of our ability," Bass said.

But, he said, "Our basic objective is, every soldier and firefighter return home in the same condition that they left home."


Tuesday August 15, 2000

Wildfires Rage Across Western United States, Canada

BOISE, Idaho (Reuters) - Wildfires raged across 13 western U.S. states and into western Canada, as tinder-dry conditions and high winds kept whipping up more blazes, putting the total at 82 large fires, authorities said.

About two-thirds of the 919,710 acres burning were in Idaho and Montana, while Wyoming and Nevada also reported large stretches of land in flames Monday. Seventy-six large fires were burning on Sunday.

``We're still getting dry lightning in lots of places. Today is a benign weather day, but tomorrow the winds are expected to pick up,'' said E. Lynn Burkett of the National Fire Information Center. Lightning strikes in tinder dry conditions are a common cause of fires.

``When the fires get so big, they create their own weather, sucking oxygen and pushing winds around,'' Burkett added.

The winds can be especially dangerous because they hurl flying embers into the air, which can defeat the arduous work of digging fire lines around blazes.

So far this year 4.8 million acres (1.92 million hectares) have burned in the United States, twice the average seen in the past 10 years.

The 20,000-plus U.S. firefighters on duty will get some help when experienced crew bosses from Australia and New Zealand are dispatched to Montana on Tuesday, Burkett said.

Firefighting efforts have been hampered by a lack of sufficient numbers of supervisors to direct fire crews, including U.S. military personnel. In all, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Mexico have sent 500 personnel to help fight the fires.

Most of the firefighting focus has been on Montana, where 23 large fires were engulfing 367,531 acres (147,012 hectares), and on Idaho, where another 23 blazes were reported burning 267,858 acres (107,143 hectares).

Montana Gov. Marc Racicot over the weekend ordered as many as 8 million acres (3.25 million hectares) of public land -- representing an area the size of Vermont -- closed except to people with special permits. Some 1,400 homes remain evacuated in the Bitterroot Valley, south of Missoula.

The lightning storms that sparked havoc in Montana and Idaho have also caused problems in neighboring British Columbia where crews aided by water-bombing aircraft were fighting more than 350 fires, many in the southeastern corner of the province.

``Firefighters are extremely busy and extra resources are being brought in,'' said Cathy Piezza, of the British Columbia Forestry Ministry.

``Most (of the fires) are small and in remote areas, but there are several of concern,'' she said.

Eight blazes were reported in Wyoming with 120,460 acres (48,184 hectares) engulfed and Nevada had 11 fires burning 123,310 acres (49,324 hectares). Firefighters were also battling blazes in California, Colorado, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Utah and Washington state.

A helicopter pilot was killed on Sunday in Nevada, bringing to 12 number of firefighters killed battling the blazes in the U.S. this year.


Tuesday August 15, 2000

Wildfires Continue To Flare in West

By SUSAN GALLAGHER, Associated Press Writer

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - A new wildfire west of Yellowstone National Park grew quickly, but a mandatory evacuation order in part of the Bitterroot Valley has been lifted, allowing hundreds of residents to return home.

In Yellowstone, officials said they were having trouble suppressing some small fires because of a lack of manpower. No buildings were threatened.

The blaze in Montana west of Yellowstone's northwest corner was added Monday to the list of fires in the state that had burned more than 385,000 acres.

The National Interagency Fire Center said 25 major fires in Montana were out of control. Nationwide, it said Tuesday, 85 major wildfires had burned more than 964,000 acres in 13 states.

The fire 12 miles west of Yellowstone, or north of Hebgen Lake, had prompted closure of the southern portion of the Madison Range to the public, including the popular Lee Metcalf Wilderness. Fire crews were evacuated from the fire line.

On Sunday, the fire roared from 80 acres to 2,000; no new acreage estimate was available Tuesday morning.

``It will be with us for a while,'' said Kimberly Schlenker of the Gallatin National Forest.

In the Bitterroot Valley, residents of about 900 homes near Hamilton were allowed to return home Monday night, but they were warned the respite may be only temporary.

Residents of hundreds of other homes affected by other fires that had blackened 207,000 acres of the valley remained under evacuation orders.

In Wyoming, Yellowstone National Park officials said they were suppressing fires inside the park as they could, but resources were not available to fully attack them all.

``This is the first time we have cited lack of resources as one of our reasons for not taking suppression efforts on a fire,'' said park spokeswoman Cheryl Matthews.

Eight firefighters have been killed in this year's wildfire season.

Sixty-eight Australian firefighters who arrived in Montana focused their attention on the southwestern area of the state. The Australian Embassy said they were likely to remain in the United States through mid-September.

Elsewhere, fires have blackened over 550,000 acres of Idaho forest and range in the past six weeks, costing more than $30 million to battle and millions more in property losses.

While about one-quarter of the 4,000 firefighters on the line in Idaho concentrated on a blaze 25 miles north of the resort community of McCall, other Payette National Forest fires are running unchecked across the largely rural central backcountry.

In northeastern Washington, crews inched closer to containing an 8,900-acre fire on the Colville Indian Reservation. Nearly 1,000 firefighters were battling the fire, which was started Aug. 6 by a spark from an electric fence, near the town of Coulee Dam.


Wednesday August 16, 2000

New Wildfire Flares Up Near Pendleton

National Guard Training To Assist Firefighters

A new wildfire is burning near Pendleton in Eastern Oregon.

KOIN 6 News reports that the 2,000-acre blaze is burning grass, brush and timber 5 miles southeast of Gibbon, Ore., at Milepost 224. Flames 100 feet high were reported Tuesday night.

Fire threatens two homes and the habitat for endangered steelhead and bull trout, KOIN reports.

The Northwest Fire Coordination Center says that 100 firefighters are battling the flames.

Meantime, the Oregon Department of Forestry is turning to the National Guard for help battling blazes across the state.

KOIN reports that Western fires are stretching fire crews to the limit.

Few Guard members have experience fighting fires, so they're going through a crash course.

About 500 Guard members will be fully trained by the end of the month to work as backup on Oregon fires.


Thursday August 17, 2000

1M Acres Have Burned in West

By SUSAN GALLAGHER, Associated Press Writer

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - 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.

Yellowstone National Park's south entrance reopened on Thursday after being closed the day before by a fire in Grand Teton National Park. People were evacuated from South Dakota's Black Hills on Wednesday 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.

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 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.


Thursday August 17, 2000

Environmentalists Battle Fires


With wildfires raging out of control in 13 Western states, Rex Wahl has seen enough. Like a peace-loving homesteader who finally reaches for his six-shooter, the influential environmentalist has unholstered his chain saw.

Wahl is ready to cut down trees to save the forest.

The executive director of Forest Guardians, an activist group based in Santa Fe, N.M., had long opposed the removal of any tree for profit or for managing nature.

Then he watched helplessly from his yard as a small, planned fire raged out of control at nearby Los Alamos in May. It charred 48,000 acres, destroyed 200 homes and caused an estimated $1 billion in damage.

``Wildfires are getting bigger, burning hotter, and the effects are more devastating,'' Wahl said. ``It's clear we'll have to take mechanical steps like thinning before we can use fire to restore these forests to a more natural regime.''

As of Thursday, 85 major wildfires were burning from Washington to Texas. More than 4 million acres have been blackened this summer, and eight firefighters have been killed. It is perhaps the worst fire season in the past 50 years, rivaling 1988 and the great Yellowstone blaze.

The wildfires are being blamed in part on a century of conflicting land management policies that researchers say have misunderstood or ignored fire's purpose in nature:

- A longtime practice of putting out all fires instead of letting them burn has allowed flammable brush, dead wood and other fuel to accumulate waist-deep in some forests.

- Ranchers have let cattle overgraze meadows that could otherwise make fires burn slow and cool.

- Commercial loggers have removed many large, fire-resistant trees. At the same time, environmental restrictions in many areas have prevented timber companies from thinning out overgrown forests and removing dead wood.

- Some homeowners as well as environmentalists who are worried about endangered species have opposed ``controlled burns'' that could remove the brush.

As a result of the devastating wildfires of recent years, however, some environmentalists are rethinking their opposition to cutting trees. Among them is Forest Guardians, which had been one of the most vocal ``zero-cut'' groups.

Wahl, a biologist, suggested that old environmental dogmas must be abandoned. He is not embracing clear-cutting. Unlike loggers, he wants to save the big trees that are fire-resistant and readily seed new growth.

``Judicious cutting of smaller trees is what's needed,'' he said.

Other environmental groups have endorsed the concept of forest thinning but have been unable to come to terms with the government on the details.

``I'm still waiting to see a thinning project where they will take only the trees that are causing the problem,'' said Sharon Galbreath, a Sierra Club spokeswoman in Flagstaff, Ariz. ``They want to take large trees, too.''

Forest industry officials said they doubt activist groups have substantially changed their ``zero-cut'' attitude toward logging, or would embrace a forest thinning program that the industry considers realistic.

Cutting only the smallest-diameter trees probably would not markedly improve forest health, they argued. They recommend cutting some larger trees to allow more sunlight and nutrients to reach the remaining growth. Those larger trees would be used in wood products, they said.

``If you're going to do commercial thinning, you'll need to take trees out of there to make products,'' said Butch Bernhardt of the Western Wood Products Association in Portland, Ore. ``That's the incentive.''

Wahl's conversion reflects the crisis facing the West's sickly forests.

A century ago, before federal agencies adopted a military approach to suppressing firs, healthy conifer forests sprouted 25 to 70 mature trees per acre. Lush meadows filled the gaps.

Little fires swept through the grass and seedlings, but thick bark protected the large trees for hundreds of years. An added bonus: The fires' heat melted the resins in fallen cones, releasing their seeds.

Lightning ignited many of these fires. But tree ring records and other sources suggest many fires were set by Indians to flush game and encourage plant regrowth.

``Fire is a land management tool that they learned to use well,'' said Don Despain, an ecologist for the U.S. Geological Survey in Bozeman, Mont.

Today's forests stand in cadaverous contrast. After a century of fire suppression, as many as 850 spindly trees per acre clog the same forests. More than half stand dead, starved for sunlight and strangled by insects that bore into them.

On the ground, overgrazing by cows has compacted the soil and stripped away the green grass. Brush and dead limbs have piled up.

In a dry year, a careless camper, a hot muffler or lightning can spark a catastrophe.

In 1988, the Yellowstone fires were out of control within 20 minutes and burned for four months. Temperatures reached 2,000 degrees, melting steel culverts and glass bottles.

``All of those smaller understory trees allow the fire to jump into the crown of the forest,'' Wahl said. ``If you get wind, it's hard to save any of them.''

What happens after a blowup depends on the landscape and the weather.

Twelve summers after the Yellowstone blaze, surveys suggest plant diversity in the burned areas might be 10 times higher than pre-fire estimates.

But in other locations, the heat from large wildfires has penetrated nearly a foot into the soil, roasting roots and seeds.

The heat also caramelizes sap and resins into a waxy layer known as hydrophobic soil. Rain beads up and rolls off the blackened surface. Plants cannot sprout, and a single thunderstorm can flush away topsoil that took 2,000 years to accumulate. The sediment, in turn, clogs streams.

After a fire in 1989, Oregon's Grande Ronde River - including spawning grounds for the endangered spring Chinook salmon - remained dead for 35 miles until the mid-1990s.

Arizona State University biologist Steven Pyne and other experts recommend fundamental changes in the nation's wildfire policy: Mechanically thin forests and remove dead litter. Stop cattle grazing. Tighten zoning and building codes. Combine fire suppression and prescribed burning in a single program.

``I don't see many people who like the forests as they exist today,'' Pyne said. ``They are not the forests that people want.''


Friday August 18, 2000

Fire in Yellowstone, Fear in Big Sky

WEST YELLOWSTONE, Mont. ( -- It's mid-afternoon in Yellowstone National Park, and a big shroud of smoke has settled along the banks of the Firehole River.

For days, a series of wildfires has licked the edges of the park, sending up such towering spires of flame and smoke that the moon now rises red above Lake Yellowstone.

To the south, in Grand Teton National Park, a 2,000-acre wildfire that rangers say was set off by a lightning strike is threatening historic Flagg Ranch and has forced rangers in Yellowstone to close off a 20-mile stretch of road from Grant Village to the park's south entrance.

Thirty miles north, another large fire rages deep in Yellowstone's back country, swallowing hundreds of acres of virgin pines in the highlands above Shoshone Lake.

And in the southwest corner of the park, in a place appropriately named Unlucky, another 870 acres burns, park spokeswoman Cheryl A. Matthews said.

Worsen throughout day

But those blazes pale in comparison to the fire just outside the park's western entrance. There, in Beaver Creek, a stubborn 3,500-acre wildfire has resisted the best efforts of more than 200 firefighters.

Like most of the fires this summer, which have already scorched a million acres of the American West, the Beaver Creek fire was started by lightning, said Dave Devours, a firefighter with the National Forestry Service.

And, like most of those blazes, it taunted the men and women who tried to control it, luring them in each morning, when the winds are soft and the air a little moister, said Forest Service spokesman Tom Lavagnino.

The fires seem almost manageable then.

But come the heat of midday whatever little moisture is burned away. There's nothing much the firefighters can do then, Lavagnino said, but pull back a safe distance and watch, hoping the fire breaks hold back the flames.

Talk of evacuation

It's 21 miles from the northern edge of that blaze to the town of Big Sky, Mont., a well-to-do ski report nestled in the Gallatin National Forest.

"It wouldn't take much," Lavagnino said, "a strong wind, a few more errant lightning strikes, a few more dry days, for that fire to make its way to Big Sky."

And the people who live there know it. You could see it in their anxious faces as they gathered Thursday at the firehouse to meet with forestry officials and local emergency management personnel to begin discussing what just a few days ago had been unthinkable.

"If the order comes down to evacuate, how much time will we have?" asked one woman, her fear clearly evident in her face.

"I won't be there at your door with my polyester shirt melting," said Gallatin County Sheriff's Deputy Brian Goodkin.

Resorts may be threatened

But Goodkin's jovial answer masked a deeper concern.

"The truth is no one knows for certain how fast the fire might move or what direction it might take," he said.

It could race north like a locomotive, just as another fire about 80 miles to the north already has. In that case, the fire burned 50,000 acres and burned scores of homes.

So far, the Beaver Creek fire has claimed no injuries and has threatened no houses. But a sudden leap to the north could leave several small but popular resorts in harm's way.

"There are a couple of dude ranches up there that could be in trouble," Devours said.

Monitoring the weather

Back at the dusty base camp just outside the town of West Yellowstone, firefighters are already monitoring the weather and swapping their best guesses about the direction the fire will take.

"I've heard rumors of some bad weather," Devours said. Lightning strikes, strong winds, the kind of conditions firefighters dread.

"Whatever happens, we'll be prepared."

By Seamus McGraw, an staff writer.


Friday August 18, 2000

Calif. fire knocks out two 230 kV power lines

SAN FRANCISCO, Aug 18 (Reuters) - A wildfire in the rugged Feather River canyon in Northern California has forced Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) to cut off two power lines, removing about 400 megawatts (MW) of hydroelectric generation from California's power grid, energy officials said Friday.

The fire was burning more than 4,000 acres Friday morning in the Plumas National Forest about 150 miles north of Sacramento, the state capital.

An official at the California Independent System Operator, which manages most of the state's power system, said the two 230 kilovolt (kV) power lines were taken out of service when the fire burned through trees near the lines.

The loss of the lines, which deliver power from hydroelectric turbines to the central valley, idled the Belden, Caribou and Rock Creek power plants on the Feather River, which have a total generating capacity rated at 435 MW.

The lines and plants are operated by PG&E, the utility subsidiary of PG&E Corp. (NYSE:PCG - news). It was not known Friday when the lines would return to service.

The lines, however, are not part of the main transmission corridor that carries electricity from the Pacific Northwest to Southern California.

The cause of the fire was unknown, according to the National Fire Information Centre.

--L Anderson, San Francisco Power Desk 1 415 677 3923


Idaho Seeks Forest Service Retirees

By Bob Fick Associated Press Writer

Saturday, Aug. 19, 2000; 6:06 a.m. EDT

BOISE, Idaho –– Forest Service retirees are being urged to return to work in an effort to bolster crews fighting wildfires that have burned across 1.1 million acres in the West.

The latest call for reinforcements to assist firefighters already on the job comes as colleges in the region are being asked to allow students fighting fires to remain on the lines.

"Our retirees have extensive experience in fire operations, fire management and natural resources management and their skills are much needed in one of the most severe fire seasons in decades," said Intermountain Regional Forest Blackwell, who oversees national forests in southern Idaho, Utah, Wyoming and Nevada.

He said the plea is part of a national call for help by Forest Service Chief Mike Dombeck.

Nearly 19,000 civilian and military firefighters were spread throughout the West on Friday – 14,000 of them in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming.

Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt on Friday visited Boise's National Interagency Fire Center, the country's headquarters for fire suppression. He asked the Western governors and college presidents to delay registration deadlines to Sept. 15 so college firefighters, accounting for a quarter to a third of the manpower in the field, can remain on the lines. Montana and Idaho have already done so.

Babbitt also said firefighters already have a blank check to draw on the federal Treasury for supplies but money cannot buy any more experienced crew bosses. That money can be used to cover overtime, lodging and transportation for fire crews.

"It's a very tough situation," Babbitt said. "We've got two, three more weeks, maybe a month of fire season, and the weather prognosis is not very good."

Nearly 19,000 civilian and military firefighters were spread throughout the West – 14,000 of them in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming where most of the active fires burned.

The fire center reported 92 major fires burning in the country on nearly 1.1 million acres.

So far this year, fires have burned 5.22 million acres, the worst fire season in at least a half-century.

In Idaho, the 147,000-acre Clear Creek fire, the nation's largest, was burning actively as fire crews labored to keep it away from a Girl Scout camp and the watershed for the city of Salmon.

Smoke from the fire that has burned since July 10 prompted the state to declare the air in the Salmon area unhealthy and issue an alert for the elderly, children and those with lung problems to remain indoors.

"The fire is a beast and there's no taming it," said Gary Hart, a Clear Creek fire operations chief from Ventura County, Calif.

In Montana, ranchers on horseback tried to herd cattle out of harm's way but were forced to abandon the animals as a wildfire burning southeast of Helena spread to 100,000 acres. People have fled ranch homes but officials said they did not have a count on the number of evacuees, nor did they know how much property was lost.

A wildfire in Wyoming that closed the busy southern entrance to Yellowstone National Park was heading into wilderness Friday, but another fire threatened a historic lodge built by Buffalo Bill Cody near the park's east entrance.

In California, a wind-driven fire 180 miles northeast of San Francisco has burned 5,000 acres in the Plumas National Forest. No homes or other buildings were immediately threatened by the blaze.


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© Copyright 2000 The Associated Press


Sunday August 20, 2000

Firefighters Racing Against Flames

By TOM LACEKY, Associated Press Writer

TOSTON, Mont. (AP) - Firefighters raced to make as much progress as possible against a menacing wildfire Saturday before expected windy weather could whip the flames into another dash across the countryside.

The blaze near Toston had swept across 45,000 acres in three days. Officials had given a 100,000-acre estimate Friday, but said Saturday that poor visibility and the amount of smoke led them to overestimate the size of the blaze.

Cool temperatures and light rain kept it quiet during the night, officials reported Saturday, but a cold front was expected to arrive during the night with strong wind and no moisture.

``The winds today are estimated at the top of the ridges to be 40 mph plus,'' said Graver Johnson, information officer for the fire near Toston, 60 miles southeast of Helena.

``Historically, we know those weather systems can undo everything that has been done. We have a heads-up today for all firefighters,'' said Jon Silvius, information officer at a fire near Hamilton, in extreme western Montana.

Some 600 firefighters, including 200 National Guard troops, battled the Toston fire Saturday.

Army officials announced Saturday that about 500 soldiers had been called up from the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Ky., to help fight wildfires in Montana, bumping the Army's numbers on the fire lines to more than 1,600. Montana Gov. Marc Racicot also announced that a Marine battalion from Camp Lejeune, N.C., would be joining the effort.

Twenty-seven major fires in Montana had burned more than half a million acres, including more than 242,000 acres in the Bitterroot Valley of southwestern Montana. They have destroyed 175 homes and other buildings since late July.

They were among 94 fires burning Saturday in Arizona, California, Florida, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wyoming, according to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho. Those fire had blackened more than 1.1 million acres.

The Toston blaze started Tuesday as a spark in a wheat field, burning 20,000 acres by Thursday, then exploded Thursday night and swept across some 80,000 additional acres of rangeland and scattered timber.

No houses were lost to the fire near Toston, but some rural families were still out of their homes.

Service had been restored Saturday on twin 500,000-volt power lines that shut down automatically Friday when the fire burned underneath them. Workers took one down again for several hours Saturday to replace insulators. The lines carry electricity from a southeastern Montana power complex to the Pacific Northwest.

Ranchers and volunteers fanned out across the countryside Saturday to rescue cattle herds. Ranchers abandoned several hundred head of cattle Friday in the Wall Mountain area as the fire drove to within a couple of miles.

Most other fires in Montana were relatively quiet overnight, but new evacuations were ordered near Darby, in southwestern Montana, and near Libby, in the northwest.

After Montana, the next major fire center was Idaho, where the 25 large fires active Saturday had blackened 421,000 acres.

This year could become a repeat of the great fires of 1910, said Jim Caswell, supervisor of the Clearwater National Forest in northern Idaho.

In that year, several large fires in northern Idaho and western Montana combined and swept across 3 million acres, killing more than 80 people.

``We are set up for a huge event if the right things fall into place,'' Caswell said.

One fire in the Clearwater National Forest jumped containment lines Friday, gaining 12,000 acres in 24 hours to reach 40,000.



Wildfires Force More Evacuations in Western States

BOISE, Idaho (Reuters) - Wildfires forced more evacuations in several western states, and while firefighters enjoyed a brief respite of lower temperatures forecasters said more dry, hot weather was on the way.

A motorcycle accident near Red Lodge, Mont., sparked a blaze that quickly grew to cover some 3,500 acres near Yellowstone National Park, forcing as many as 150 residences to be evacuated as a precaution, officials at the National Fire Information Center said. "These fires are big. These fires are dangerous. People need to get that message," E. Lynn Burkett, a spokeswoman for the Boise-based center, said Monday.

On the Wyoming-South Dakota border, numerous evacuations were also ordered near the Black Hills National Forest near Newcastle, where a fire spread to cover about 90,000 acres (36,000 hectares) and closed a local highway. Tom Knapenberger, a fire information specialist with the U.S. Forest Service, said the buildings in danger were summer homes and permanent homes owned by people inside the Black Hills National Forest. The Mount Rushmore memorial is about a dozen miles away, and is not in danger, he said.

Officials said 84 large fires were burning on Monday across 10 western states as well as South Dakota and Florida, with a total of more than 1.7 million acres in flames. The total for the year, by far the worst fire season in recent memory, was nearing 6 million acres -- more than double the average annual total.

Burkett said cooler temperatures were helping firefighters make headway. But forecasts of more gusty, hot and dry weather to come were worrying fire control officials who also were preparing for the upcoming Labor Day holiday weekend, usually one of the busiest for national and state parks. "If people want to head for parkland they need to be checking every day (for closure information)," Burkett said. "We know it is going to impact people, and people are disappointed, but you don"t want to risk a life."

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North Texas faces longest drought

August 28, 2000

In this story: Drought dries up drinking water

Labor Day could be fiery for state

DALLAS (CNN) -- Texas set a new record this week with the longest dry spell the state has suffered in a half century. And there's no relief in sight.

The record was set Monday with 59 consecutive days without rain at the official Dallas-Fort Worth rainfall measuring site, the National Weather Service said.

The previous record of 58 consecutive days was set in 1934 ( May 25 through July 21) and repeated in 1950 (November 4 through December 31).

National Weather Service meteorologist "Skip" Ely said the dry pattern is due to a persistent area of high pressure that has dominated North Texas weather since the end of June, blocking normal moisture flows across the south.

Drought dries up drinking water

This is the area's third consecutive summer with extended heat and drought. There were 56 rainless days between July and the beginning of September 1999, and 1998 saw the driest April through September on record in the Dallas/Fort Worth area.

Texans who live off the land have been hardest hit, with agriculture losses estimated at nearly $600 million.

Lack of rain has sent water levels in Texas lakes plunging, threatening drinking supplies in scores of towns.

Lake Lewisville, a major source of drinking water for Dallas, is 15 feet below normal levels, while water consumption is at a record high, with most of it going to keep lawns green.

"A lot of times people feel in this type of climate they need to water every day -- every single day -- and that's simply not true," said Terrace Stewart of the Dallas Water Utilities.

The drought has even damaged homes. Soil around Bobbie Jones' Dallas house has compressed so much because of a lack of moisture that the foundation is cracking and the walls have separated from the frame.

"There was enough room that birds were actually flying in and out of this space in here," Jones said pointing at the damage.

Labor Day could be fiery

The National Weather Service's extended forecast for North Texas calls for continued clear skies and daily temperatures peaking at around 100 degrees. Forecasters fear rain won't come until October.

With no rain in sight, officials fear an outbreak of wildfires across Texas could worsen during the Labor Day weekend.

National Weather Service Southern Regional Director Bill Proenza said the drought is also affecting the southern United States. "While southern wildfires have not been as plentiful as those in the West, the drought conditions in this region are even more extreme," he said. "The heat and lack of rain has dramatically decreased soil moisture in the south. Agriculture across the southern United States is suffering."

CNN Correspondent Charles Zewe contributed to this report.





International Forest Fire News - 1998