Washington wildfire covers 100,000 acres in two days

Saturday, August 26th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

PROSSER, Wash. – Firefighters set backfires across southern Washington's parched sagebrush country Friday to try to control a fast-moving wildfire that had spread to 100,000 acres in two days.

The fire, sparked by lightning Wednesday, was threatening 50 homes near the Yakama Nation reservation and had already consumed 24 other structures.

"If we can save one home or a farm – you'd like to save them all – then it's a done job," said Paul Hill, a firefighter for Benton County Fire District 3 in Prosser.

More than 5.84 million acres have burned across the United States this year in what has been called the worst Western fire season in at least a half-century.

Also Friday, President Clinton ordered the federal government to make as many as 2,000 managers and supervisors available to support the firefighting efforts. The Agriculture and Interior departments will immediately send personnel to assume management and supervisory positions.

"Our federal firefighters and management personnel are working under extremely dangerous conditions to protect the public and our lands from the threat of these wildfires," Mr. Clinton said.

An Army battalion from Fort Campbell, Ky., also began arriving for wildfire duty in Montana, which will soon enter its sixth week of catastrophic burning. The reinforcements – 500 soldiers plus support personnel – will bring the number of people fighting Montana fires to about 12,000, according to the National Interagency Fire Center in Idaho. The center expects 500 more soldiers from Fort Bragg, N.C., to arrive Monday.

High winds fanned two major wildfires in Montana's Bitterroot Valley and prompted more evacuations Friday.

Jim Chinn of the Ravalli County Sheriff's Department said many of the hundreds of residents forced out earlier are back in their homes, but he didn't have numbers.

The American Red Cross began distributing air filters to asthmatics in Montana and others whose health could be endangered by the thick smoke that hangs over the state. The charity has spent more than $500,000 to assist Montana fire evacuees and others this year.