FIREFIGHTERS turn focus to Yellowstone as they come close to putting out Jackson blaze

Wednesday, August 1st 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

JACKSON, Wyo. (AP) _ Homeowners began cleaning fire-retardant foam from their ritzy mountain retreats as the 1,400 firefighters who saved the houses from a stubborn blaze wrapped up their task.

With the fire in the southwest corner of the Jackson Hole valley expected to be contained this week, fire crews turned their attention to a new blaze that forced the closure of an entrance to Yellowstone National Park.

About 200 more firefighters were added Tuesday to the 900-acre fire, which was difficult to reach because of its location in treacherous terrain, park spokeswoman Cheryl Matthews said.

``It was one of the areas in 1988 that did not receive burn, so you have a lot of heavy fuel,'' Matthews said. Fires burned nearly a million acres in Yellowstone in 1988.

That blaze also threatened the Pahaska Tepee resort, which features a hunting lodge built in 1904 by Buffalo Bill Cody.

The fire near Jackson no longer posed the danger that it did last week, when it threatened more than 100 of homes, including a subdivision where houses average $5 million. The fire, which charred 4,470 acres, brought an aerial blitz of water and fire retardant from tankers and helicopters that stopped its advance.

Residents cleaned up the mess left by the firefighting effort and felt blessed that no serious damage was done. The fire came within several feet of some homes last week, but no structures were destroyed.

``I expected to come up and see nothing but a pile of chimneys,'' said John Thornton, who was forced from his home at Crescent H Ranch, a former dude ranch with about a dozen cabins now used privately. ``I'm glad there's something left to clean.''

Jackson Hole, a 40-mile-long valley, is the gateway to the Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks. The fire started July 22 when an abandoned campfire got out of control. Firefighting efforts have cost about $8 million so far, officials said.

The fires have caused 17 injuries in the last two days, the more serious involving two firefighters hurt by a falling dead tree, said fire information officer Bobby Kitchens.

Other fires were burning in Washington, Montana, Colorado, Idaho, California, Nevada and South Dakota.

The Washington fire was started by an illegal trash burn and has since charred about 4,600 acres. The blaze destroyed a house and two vacation mobile homes, forcing the evacuation of people in 41 homes. It was 40 percent contained Tuesday.