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Wildfires threaten several states


"There are fires everywhere -- too many to even be aware of."

—Jody Hill

Major damage from wildfires burning across several states is being averted only through the furious work of fire departments

keeping a breakneck pace.

In Florida, "there are fires everywhere -- too many to even be aware of," said Jody Hill, executive director of Florida Interfaiths Networking in Disaster


Some 2,252 fires have charred 178,138 acres in the state since Jan. 1. So far Florida has dodged a largescale fire but only because "our fire fighters are doing

an incredible job," she said. "Almost all homes have been saved -- amazing."

She also said fire mitigation efforts were helping to make communities more fire resistant. Florida emergency management officials will meet Tuesday

with FIND and with representatives from local churches to offer mitigation training through a state program called "Firewise."

Last week a 150-acre brushfire in Florida temporarily closed a highway and threatened 40 homes near

Davenport, a small town 37 miles south of Orlando.

And as west central Minnesota staved off floodwaters, wildfires have plagued other parts of that state. More

than 170 small wildfires ignited last week, damaging several homes, destroying one farm, and killing several

dairy cows

One blaze in Hibbing, in northeastern Minnesota, destroyed several garages and outbuildings after seriously

damaging several homes. Another fire near Red Lake in north central Minnesota grew to 12,810 acres. In the

southwest corner of the state, a wind-driven blaze burned most of a dairy farm in Beaver Creek. That blaze

destroyed six buildings and thousands of dollars of equipment but the house was protected, according to

Hibbing Fire Chief Vince Puhek. Ten cows were killed but more than 100 were saved.

Light rain kept further damage at bay but Minnesota faces a hazardous wildfire season, said Perri Graham, Church World Service disaster resource

specialist. "A huge hunk of Minnesota is still prairie," she said. "So brush and grass fires are definitely a hazard."

More than 16,088 acres have burned since Jan. 1 in the state.

Minnesota's fire risk is even higher this year because of a severe storm that swept through the northeastern wilderness region on July 4 two years ago,

said Graham. "That storm damaged thousands of trees. But instead of knocking them down, it snapped them mid-trunk. So they've been drying out, not


This year, that forested area is prime tinder for a potential wildfire.

In New Jersey, a smoky brush and swamp fire in North Bergen and Secaucus closed parts of several major highways for several hours. The blaze also

disrupted passenger train service into New York City.

Wildfires are a concern for western states as well, especially as New Mexico remembers the first-year anniversary of the huge Cerro Grande fire that

devastated the Los Alamos area. Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Joe Allbaugh sent a message to Los Alamos fire survivors on May 4,

the anniversary date.

"Those whose lives were changed forever by the Cerro Grande fire may be acknowledging the first anniversary of the disaster in a variety of ways. As each fire survivor knows, some losses can never be replaced," he said. "And yet, those impacted by the fire have worked very hard and made tremendous progress toward recovery."

More than 20,000 fled that May 2000 blaze and some 260 people lost their homes. A long-term interfaith recovery committee is helping meet fire survivors' needs.

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