MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) _ With firefighters still gaining on blazes that have blackened several hundred thousand acres in the West, officials are beginning to shift some of their resources to rehabilitating the scarred landscape.

Some firefighters in western Montana are being reassigned for duties that include planting new seed and clearing fallen timber and debris from natural drainage canals in burned forests.

``With the devastation the fires have caused this summer, you can imagine what a massive task that's going to be,'' Dave Daniels, an information officer with the Forest Service in Missoula, said Thursday.

Montana still had 24 large fires burning on 645,289 acres as of Thursday. In Idaho, nearly 651,000 acres of forest and range land were on fire. Nationwide, fires have burned more than 6.6 million acres so far this year.

But a week of cooler temperatures and rain has helped firefighters make significant progress, allowing the Forest Service to begin demobilizing crews.

An estimated 1,800 firefighters had passed through a demobilization center in Missoula as of Thursday, Daniels said. Many are being sent to fight other blazes, including fires in Texas. Others are returning home, while some are staying behind to help with forest rehabilitation.

But fire crews aren't convinced their weather worries are behind them. Forecasters are predicting warm, dry weather to move into parts of Idaho this weekend, which had fire manager Paul Hefner of Boise trying to get an edge on stamping out hotspots.

``This rain tends to give you a false sense of security,'' Hefner said.


On the Net:

National Interagency Fire Center: http://www.nifc.gov