Fire threatens power grid

BY SUSAN KIM | Townsend, MT | August 18, 2000


A 20,000-acre wildfire threatened to cut power to the Northwest when it raged too close to a 500-kilovolt Garrison power line that connects a generating station in Montana to

the rest of the Western power grid.

The fire burned within a few miles of the power line on Thursday night before the wind shifted and drove it away, said Kareene Ostermiller, public information officer for the

Montana Division of Disaster and Emergency Services. Officials were still watching the power line closely on Friday.

The new fire threatened homes as well, added Ostermiller. On Thursday night, some 20 ranch families were evacuated and were not allowed back to their homes on Friday.

Those families fled the new fire the same day that several hundred people in the Bitterroot Valley area were allowed back into their homes.

Approximately 400,000 acres in Montana have been devastated by fire, and 1,400 homes have been evacuated. Montana is currently under a statewide disaster declaration.

When asked if fire risk would decrease anytime soon, forecasters said no. Hot, dry weather will be broken only by thunderstorms that produce wind and lightning, said Steve

Brown, manager of the Reno office of the National Weather Service. "This is a repeating type of pattern that will last several more weeks," he said. "I want people to know fire

could be coming. I want them to take precaution."

Local churches have been pitching in to help fire survivors. "We offered our bus to the American Red Cross," said Sharon Walker, a member of the First Lutheran Church in

Helena.

A trained volunteer Disaster Child Care team, administered by the Church of the Brethren, traveled to Missoula, MT, where they cared for children of families displaced by the

fires. "There are many extended families taking care of each other," said Lydia Walker, who administers the DCC program. Some church families have opened their homes to

families who are out of their homes."

The DCC team was activated through an agreement with the American Red Cross, which has requested that the team stay in anticipation of increased future needs. Heavy

smoke is a burden for many people in fire-stricken areas, especially children or elderly people who have asthma or other respiratory problems. "The air quality is terrible," said

Walker. "They (volunteers) wear masks a good bit of the time."

The Montana Department of Environment has established a Web site to keep the public informed about changes to air quality conditions across the state. The Forest Fire Air

Quality Update provides daily updated tables identifying communities in Montana that are experiencing the most serious smoke problems. It also provides a "Visibility Ranges

Table" used to determine forest fire smoke density and its hazard ranking.

The Salvation Army continues to be active in Montana and other fire-stricken states by supporting firefighters and fire survivors with meals and material donations.

On Thursday, the State of Montana announced a toll-free number for fire recovery donations. The hotline is for individuals or businesses that want to donate goods, services, or

funds to help people in Montana recover from the fires. The hotline (800-505-7751) is regularly staffed weekdays during business hours but weekend hours may be added if the

situation warrants it, said state officials.

"A few weeks ago, many Montanans never thought they would be in a position of need," said Gov. Marc Racicot. "The ravages of recent wildfires have left many of our

neighbors homeless and without even the basic necessities of life. America's reputation for generosity is unmatched throughout the world. For those who can and those whose

hearts lead them to do so, this hotline offers a way to help."

The Governor's office also offered tips for families about to be evacuated. Families should prepare "Go Kits" containing items such as prescription medication and important

papers.

Once evacuated, people should register at a local emergency shelter so that friends and relatives will know they are safe. Evacuees can also contact the phone company for

information on call forwarding and voice messaging.

Families should also be aware that many insurance policies cover expenses associated with evacuation. Most homeowners' policies cover damage to structures, up to two weeks

cost of displacement due to evacuation, and smoke damage to items such as clothes and carpets. But scorched acreage is generally not covered, although some policies cover up

to 5 percent of the cost of the home.

Fire survivors generally need new pillows and mattresses when they return to their homes, since the smell of smoke is nearly impossible to remove from bedding. But if a

mattress that has been burned must be used, emergency response officials recommend temporarily exposing it to sunlight to dry. Then, cover it with rubber plastic sheeting

before using.

Once survivors are allowed back into their homes, volunteer crews may be needed to help wash walls, repair smoke damage, re-seed lawns and help with other recovery-related

tasks.

Farmers in the fire-stricken areas will likely face hay and feed shortages as well as lost and damaged fencing.

More information about Montana's fire recovery can be found at a state-sponsored Web site.


Related Topics:

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Churches assist wildfire survivors

More than 200,000 evacuate in CA


More links on Wildfires

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