Firefighters Racing Against Flames

Monday, August 21st 2000, 12:00 am

By: News On 6

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Fifty years after firefighters rescued a bear from a New Mexico wildfire and named it Smokey Bear, a small cub has emerged burned but alive from the blazes that have charred forest and rangeland across Montana.

The cub was ``skin and bones,'' said Joe Jacquith, the state wildlife warden who rescued the animal from the fire-ravaged Bitterroot National Forest. He said the cub will eventually be released into the wild.

About 30 of the most significant fires have burned about 600,000 acres in Montana, according to the National Interagency Fire Center in Idaho. More than one-third of the land is in the Bitterroot Valley, where hundreds of evacuees remained out of their homes.

A blaze between Helena and Bozeman remained a major challenge for firefighters Sunday. Estimates of the size ranged 60,000 to 100,000 acres, said Kimberly Landl, a Helena National Forest spokeswoman. Aerial mapping likely will provide better information Monday.

Ranchers still had no word on cattle that had been grazing in the area and could not be removed in time after the fire started Tuesday in a grain field.

On Sunday, utility crews completed repairs to a major power line that carries electricity to the West Coast. That line and its twin shut down automatically when the fire burned underneath them, but service was unaffected.

An evacuation order for some homes in southeastern Broadwater County was lifted, said Graver Johnson of the Gallatin County emergency operations center. Other evacuations remained in place, including those for Meagher County's Grassy Mountain subdivision, where about 20 buildings were threatened.

There were 98 major fires burning Sunday in Arizona, California, Florida, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming, according to the fire center. They had blackened a total of about 1.3 million acres.

Twenty miles south of Big Sky and 12 miles west of Yellowstone National Park, crews Sunday returned to a fire after high wind fanned flames Saturday and made firefighters retreat.

The wind also grounded helicopters and airplanes that had been dropping water and retardant. The fire, started by lightning Aug. 11, triggered the evacuation of several ranches in the area.

A fire in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest grew to 29,142 acres, through expansion of the fire and better mapping. The Kootenai National Forest of northwestern Montana had about 110 fires, burning 27,000 acres.

In Hamilton, the black bear, who was not given a name, received dog food as he rested at a veterinary clinic, Jacquith said. He had set a trap for the young animal after a resident told him of the animal's plight.

The cub had apparently gotten water from a creek and meat from the carcass of a burned deer, Jacquith said. ``He'll be a little tender-footed for awhile, but he should be fine,'' he said.

In 1950, a bear rescued by firefighters in the Lincoln National Forest near Capitan, N.M., was named Smokey Bear and became the national fire-prevention mascot. That bear died in 1976.

So far, fires in Idaho's Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness have consumed more than 70,000 acres, while blazes in the Salmon-Challis National Forest had burned 156,254 acres.

Most resorts along the Middle Fork and Main Salmon Rivers have been evacuated. In the Sawtooth National Forest, two areas remain closed to public entry as firefighters continued battling four major wildfires.


On the Net:

National Interagency Fire Center:

Smokey Bear:

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