Fires Continue To Flare Up in West


Tuesday, August 15th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6


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

In Yellowstone, meanwhile, officials said they were having trouble suppressing some small fires that were not threatening buildings because of a lack of manpower.

The fire near Yellowstone's northwest corner was added Monday to the list of large Montana fires that have burned 367,531 acres. On Sunday, the fire roared from 80 acres to 2,000.

The National Interagency Fire Center said 23 major fires in Montana were burning out of control. Nationwide, the center said, 82 major wildfires have burned nearly 920,000 acres in 13 states.

A fire north of Hebgen Lake and 12 miles from Yellowstone was estimated at 3,500 acres and 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 fireline.

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

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 others fires burning over 207,000 acres of the valley remained under evacuation orders.

Ravalli County Sheriff Perry Johnson said residents allowed to return home should keep personal belongings packed and not bring livestock back until the fire threat passes.

Yellowstone National Park, meanwhile, announced it was suppressing fires as it 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 furious wildfire season.

Sixty-eight Australian firefighters who arrived in Montana focused their attention on the southwestern area of the state. The Australian Embassy said the firefighters are likely to help battle fires 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 uncalculated millions in resource and property losses.

While about one-quarter of the 4,000 firefighters on the line in Idaho are concentrated on a blaze 23 miles north of the resort community of McCall, other Payette National Forest fires are running unchecked across the largely rural central backcountry.

In Washington, crews inched closer to containing the 8,900-acre Buffalo Lake fire on the Colville Indian Reservation while a firefighting helicopter dropped ping pong-ball-sized globs of flammable gel.

About 960 firefighters are battling the fire, which started Aug. 6 with a spark from an electrical fence, about four miles northeast of the town of Coulee Dam in northeastern Washington.

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On the Net:

National Interagency Fire Center: http://www.nifc.gov

Forest Service: http://www.fs.fed.us/fire/news.shtml