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Crews Set Blazes to Fight Mont. Wildfire

July 29, 2003

WEST GLACIER, Mont. (AP) _ Firefighters started blazes with torches and incendiary bombs made of ping-pong balls Tuesday in a counterattack aimed at protecting West Glacier and a nearby village in Glacier National Park from an approaching wildfire.

The goal was to remove 2,000 acres of trees and other fuel from the path of the forest fire.

``Tonight, right now what you see as green will be gone,″ said Clinton Northway, supervisor of the effort.

West Glacier, which borders the park, was already mostly empty, save for emergency workers and about 60 residents who ignored Monday’s order to leave. About 500 residents left Monday night, creating a traffic jam on the road out.

The wildfire, one of three in and around the park, had burned across an estimated 12,100 acres by Tuesday morning. It was within 1 1/2 miles of West Glacier and moving in dense trees and rugged hills nearly inaccessible to fire crews. Firefighters worried it make another run because humidity was extremely low and wind was expected to pick up.

A helicopter flew over the forest around noon, dropping incendiary bombs made of ping-pong balls filled with a flammable chemical.

Ground crews set more fires in the thick woods. Water bombers skimmed across scenic Lake McDonald, filling their tanks with water to dump near the evacuated homes and business to make sure the deliberately set flames did not turn on the town.

``It’s going to be a pretty chaotic air show,″ Tom Kempton, a fire information officer said before the operation started.

The three Glacier fires had blackened a total of nearly 50,000 acres, and were being fought by some 2,000 firefighters.

Sirens wailed on Monday evening, warning residents, tourists and remaining National Park Service personnel at park headquarters to evacuate, mostly because the fire was threatening to block U.S. Highway 2, the main escape route. Thousands of tourists already had left other parts of the park.

Amtrak’s Empire Builder passenger train was bypassing the West Glacier station.

One of the Glacier fires, near the Canadian border, had burned six dwellings and threatened about 100 other homes and cabins near the North Fork of the Flathead River. Another threatened historic buildings in the park, including the Granite Park Chalet.

Wildfires also were active Tuesday in Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington and Wyoming, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

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On the Net:

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

Glacier web cams: http://www.nps.gov/glac/whatsnew.htm

Glacier fire updates: http://www.fs.fed.us/r5/fire/ciimt5/ac/

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