Firefighters hope for rain

BY P.J. HELLER | Missoula, MT | August 30, 2000


"It's going to take some

extremely wet weather and cooler temperatures and no wind (to slow the fires)," said Dani Hegwood,

spokesperson for the Fire Information Multi-agency Coordinating Group here. "That's definitely what

we're praying for."

She added that if the forecasts materialized, it could also bring snow to the higher elevations, which could

also help firefighters get a better handle on the fires. Firefighters meanwhile continued to battle 31 large

wildfires throughout the state, which have charred more than 673,000 acres this summer. Elsewhere in the

country, the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) in Boise, ID, reported 53 other fires burning in 12

states.

Overall, some 1.6 million acres were ablaze nationwide in California, Washington, Utah, Idaho, Wyoming,

Nevada, Oregon, North and South Dakota, Texas, Mississippi, Florida, and Montana, the NIFC said. An

estimated 26,000 firefighters were battling the flames. In Montana, where Hegwood said several smaller

fires erupted on Tuesday, Gov. Marc Racicot asked President Clinton to declare the entire state a major

disaster.

That would make federal funds available to individuals, agricultural producers and other businesses.

Racicot said the fire was costing businesses in the state $3 million a day. In his letter to Clinton, Racicot said

the fires have caused "decreases in commerce, significant agricultural devastation and extraordinary stress

for the people of Montana" and that the state has exhausted it resources and needed a "safety net."

"We are exploring every possible avenue of assistance that we can find for Montanans who have been

placed in harm's way by this year's wildfires," Racicot said. "We will continue to work diligently to bring

aid to our neighbors as quickly as possible." He requested nearly $50 million for businesses and individuals

in the state, although estimates of losses are still coming in."

Disaster programs won't make people whole for their underinsured or uninsured personal or business

losses, noted Jim Greene, administrator of the state's Disaster and Emergency Services. "The programs are

a basic safety net to help people begin the recovery process. "In the resort area of Red Lodge, some 100

families who had been evacuated were allowed to return to their homes Tuesday after cool, calm weather

kept flames from their town. No homes in the town were destroyed. The fire consumed about 2,500 acres.


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