SEATTLE — Two battalions of U.S. Marines from Camp Pendleton in California will be dispatched to help fight raging fires in the Northwest that have destroyed nearly 100 homes and other structures, officials said Friday.
The Marines will assist the nearly 8,000 people now battling to contain 30 major fires burning in Washington state and Oregon.
Camp Pendleton spokeswoman Shelly Roberge said 500 Marines will leave Sunday and a second group of 500 will depart Monday. The Marines are expected to be on assignment a minimum of 15 days.
The fires, which were sparked by lightning last weekend, have blackened more than 130,000 acres of timber and grassland.
President Clinton told reporters Friday that 320 fires were burning in seven states and that the federal government had mobilized more than 330 fire crews and more than 200 fire engines, helicopters and air tankers.
"Two battalions of Marines have begun training today and will be deployed to fight the fires as soon as possible," Clinton said. "Our hearts go out to all those who have been displaced, or who have lost property in these fires."
Fifteen homes and 79 barns and other structures have been burned and more than 700 people have been evacuated, many of them visitors who were vacationing at resorts around Lake Chelan in the north-central portion of Washington state.
Weather forecasts have offered little cause for hope. The National Weather Service on Friday forecast below normal rainfall in the Northwest and above normal temperatures for August.
Smaller fires continued to burn in Idaho and Montana. According to the National Fire Center in Boise, Ida., 11,500 firefighters, 600 fire engines, 100 helicopters and 19 air tankers are now deployed to fight fires in the West.
The Tyee Creek fire, the largest in the region, has nearly tripled in size in three days and is estimated to have burned more than 70,000 acres in the mountains of central Washington, officials said.