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Chanters Try To Ward Off Western Wildfire

August 4, 1988

Undated (AP) _ More than 200 members of a ″New Age″ sect chanted in an attempt to command one of several forest fires in Yellowstone National Park away from their Montana property as 300 firefighters battled the blaze.

Hundreds of firefighters also were busy Wednesday with wildfires in Wyoming, Colorado, Oregon and Idaho, including a 2,300-acre blaze that came within a few miles of Idaho’s Capitol in Boise.

Yellowstone’s 16,600-acre Fan fire has been burning for nearly a month, but firefighters weren’t called in until Monday, when stiff winds pushed it within a third of a mile of the 12,000-acre ranch in southern Montana.

″We don’t want our fires to burn on private property,″ park spokesman Steve Iobst said Wednesday as crews fought the 16,600-acre fire near the Church Universal and Triumphant’s Royal Teton Ranch bordering Yellowstone.

Aircraft bombed the blaze with fire retardant as more than 200 church members chanted at high speed in a meadow not far from the flames, commanding the fire to reverse its course.

Park officials felt the fire would stay inside America’s oldest national park, Iobst said.

Church officials have criticized the National Park Service’s policy of generally letting fires burn unless they threaten buildings or private property. Church leader Elizabeth Clare Prophet said Yellowstone officials should have known the Fan fire threatened church property and started fighting it sooner.

The 30-year-old church, which has its international headquarters Paradise Valley in nearby Corwin Springs, owns more than 33,000 acres in the area, including the ranch. Church members believe in using praying or chanting to influence world conditions or personal concerns.

In Idaho, officials hoped today to control a 2,300-acre fire in the Boise Foothills, which came within a few miles of the Capitol on Wednesday.

The blaze burned tinder-dry cheatgrass and brush before 120 firefighters aided by air tankers and helicopters slowed it. The fire was man-caused, said U.S. Forest Service Fire Information Officer Jean Hawthorne.

Fire bosses had hoped to mop up the blaze Wednesday evening, but it jumped fire lines into dry brush and scorched 15 more acres before crews could stop it again, Forest Service fire information officer Jean Hawthorne said.

″It picked up some embers and started to burn outside the lines,″ she said.

Rain, cloudy skies and cooler weather helped slow blazes burning on 121,000 of Yellowstone’s 2.2 million acres, most of which are in northwest Wyoming but also extend into Montana and Idaho.

The precipitation also forced a break for firefighters battling a 1,800- acre fire in Bighorn National Forest in north-central Wyoming.

″We had to pull the crews off the line because of concern for their health and safety,″ said Fire Information Officer Dave Damron. ″We don’t need 400 firefighters out with cases of the flu.″

Officials were able to declare a 1,285-acre fire and a 70-acre blaze under control by Wednesday evening, Damron said.

Man-made rain from a sprinkler system connected to Yellowstone Lake doused one mile of a major power line around the village of West Thumb to keep an 18,000-acre fire from scorching the cable, said Fire Information Officer Larry Blade. Crews began the watering Tuesday.

Crews continued scooping buckets of water out of another lake for helicopter drops on an 18,700-acre fire that had threatened the area around Old Faithful geyser.

About 440 firefighters hoped to maintain lines around the fire’s eastern and northern sides, Blade said.

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