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Firefighters Start Backfire in Mont. Park

July 27, 2003

WEST GLACIER, Mont. (AP) _ Firefighters started a defensive backfire Sunday in an effort to save buildings at Glacier National Park headquarters and more than 500 homes and summer cabins threatened by a 9,300-acre fire.

Fire crews were making their stand along the Middle Fork of the Flathead River, which forms part of the western boundary of the national park.

``We could basically tie off the fire″ by burning out an area that would block the fire’s eastward spread, said Andy Williams, a fire information officer.

Evacuation plans had been prepared for residents of the park entrance town of West Glacier and for remaining workers at Glacier National Park’s headquarters.

``Now is a really good time to start getting things out of your home and organized,″ Flathead County Sheriff Jim Dupont warned some 450 people at a community meeting.

The blaze near West Glacier was one of three major blazes in and around the park that had blackened 44,500 acres by Sunday.

An 18,900-acre blaze had spread into the northwest corner of the park near the Canadian Border and was threatening about 100 homes and cabins, said Lisa Keibler of the Flathead National Forest. It had destroyed five homes and damaged another.

``They’re going to continue digging (fire) lines, mainly around the residences,″ Keibler said.

The third wildfire in the area had blackened 16,300 acres but had been slowed by rainfall on Saturday.

Large fires also were burning in Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington and Wyoming, the National Interagency Fire Center reported.

A helicopter carrying three firefighters crashed Saturday in eastern Arizona, killing one firefighter and the pilot and injuring the other two firefighters, officials said. Another helicopter pilot died Friday while fighting a wildfire in northeastern Washington state. And in Idaho, two firefighters were killed earlier in the week when they were overrun by flames.

In northern California, erratic wind drove flames across 4,000 acres of grass, sage and juniper early Sunday in the Modoc National Forest. In addition to the erratic wind in the area just south of the Oregon state line, the humidity was only 11 percent.

Crews in southern California expected full containment Sunday of a 4,300-acre blaze that prompted the evacuation of 200 homes near San Jacinto in Riverside County. Evacuees were allowed to return home Saturday night.

Crews had nearly surrounded a 1,200-acre blaze that spread into the Sequoia National Forest near Lake Isabella. The 4-day-old blaze was heading away from groves of the giant trees.

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On the Net:

Nat’l Interagency Fire Center: http://www.nifc.gov

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