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Firefighters Seek To Stop ‘Raining Fire’

September 6, 1988

COOKE CITY, Mont. (AP) _ Firefighters, worried it would start ″raining fire″ today, hosed down houses and bolstered lines against blazes that have blackened nearly 1 million acres in and around Yellowstone National Park.

County authorities declared a state of emergency today in Cooke City and Silver Gate, just outside the park, and sheriff’s deputies fanned out to order lingering townspeople to leave their homes. The declaration authorized the sheriff’s office to forcibly remove anyone who didn’t leave the threatened areas voluntarily.

Southwesterly winds 20 to 30 mph were expected in the Yellowstone area after relatively light winds Monday. Strong winds also whipped a 160-acre fire in north-central Washington from 160 acres Monday to more than 20,000 acres today.

Authorities had feared the changing winds could send embers and flames into the two small towns from the advancing 61,300-acre Storm Creek blaze.

″We have about a 25 percent chance of holding the fire out of these two communities,″ David Liebersbach, incident commander in Silver Gate, said on NBC-TV’s ″Today″ show this morning.

″With these winds, it will be heroic, a real success to save some of these buildings,″ said fire information officer Pat Kaunert.

Elsewhere in Yellowstone, the 142,000-acre North Fork fire burned to within a few miles of the Old Faithful geyser, but authorities were optimistic the fire would not reach the tourist attraction.

″The fire’s about four miles from Old Faithful. So if we do get those predicted winds we could have some problems there, but I think we have a good chance,″ said Bob Barbee, Yellowstone National Park superintendant, also appearing on ″Today.″

Thirteen fires in and around Yellowstone have scorched 900,000 acres, and should top 1 million acres today after aerial surveys are completed, Gary Cargill, head of the U.S. Forest Service in Denver, said at a news conference in Bozeman. About 300,000 more acres could burn this week, he said.

In Washington, a fast-growing fire in the eastern Cascade hills destroyed one home and threatened others, said Nick Mickel of the state Department of Natural Resources. He said he did not know how many homes or how near they were to the fire.

The fire, about six miles west of Entiat, was burning on steep hills covered with sage, grass, pine, and some Douglas fir, and was beginning to butt up against some orchards in Washington’s premier fruit-growing region, Mickel said.

The fire was reported Sunday and pegged at 160 acres Monday morning. By 4:30 p.m. it grew to 500 acres. But when 20 mph westerly winds moved in, it accelerated rapidly to 3,000 acres by 7:30 p.m. and 20,000 by 4 a.m. today, Mickel said.

That fire and others across the state prompted Gov. Booth Gardner to call out the National Guard late Monday, mainly to help transport firefighting crews to blazes in central and eastern Washington. A 12,500-acre fire near the White Mountain Complex, about 75 miles northwest of Spokane, had been the state’s largest fire.

In Idaho, 13 forest fires raged out of control. A new fire broke out Monday seven miles north of Island Park, on the western edge of the massive North Fork fire that burned out of Yellowstone during the weekend, forcing an estimated 150-200 summer cabin owners to evacuate.

In Silver Gate and Cooke City near Yellowstone’s northeastern entrance, all but 30 of the approximately 150 residents had evacuated.

″Some of them are staying around because they want to see what the fire does,″ said Bob Fry, an emergency services official. ″They’re mostly packed up, though, and we’re trying to push them out.″

Mild winds blew ash and smoke toward the towns Monday afternoon.

Fire lines were completed Monday around Silver Gate and nearly completed around Cooke City, said fire information officer Sue Consolo.

About 75 trucks were called in from as far away as Nevada to protect buildings in the communities. Firefighters also doused homes with water.

Hopes of burning out fuels from a two-mile swath in the fire’s path were dashed when backfires failed to burn as expected, leaving towns with less protection than officials had wanted.

Forest Service officials in northwest Montana also prepared an evacuation plan for homes in a residential area south of the tiny town of Fortine.

″Right now, we’ve got our fingers crossed that this wind isn’t going to be that harsh,″ said spokesman Dick Guth, stressing that residents would be asked to leave only if winds materialize. The blaze jumped over some lines and grew to an estimated 12,300 acres.

While the forecast for brisk winds worried officials at most fires in the region, it was welcomed at the 54,270-acre Hellroaring Creek fire burning in Montana’s Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness and south into Yellowstone.

Spokesman Stephanie Gibert said the expected southwest winds would allow firefighters to set backfires that would burn into the main blaze.

Elsewhere, a blaze that has charred more than 20,000 acres in Southern California’s Los Angeles and Ventura counties continued to burn out of control today, but fire dispatcher Annie Ironside said containment was anticipated late this evening.

Oregon’s largest fire of the season was nearly contained at just under 57,000 acres in the rugged Hell’s Canyon National Recreation Area.

In northern Utah, fire officials said a fire burning near Paradise that was thought to be 250 acres was really only 5 acres. Heavy smoke was blamed for the error, said Ray Tate, an Interagency Fire Center spokesman.

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