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California and the West

Washington Governor Enlists Guard to Fight Fires

August 27, 2000|From Associated Press

PROSSER, Wash. — As wildfires continue to rage and firefighting resources are strained across the West, Washington state is calling out the troops.

Gov. Gary Locke called up 530 National Guard members Friday to help fight a 110,000-acre brush fire that has raced across parched sagebrush in southern Washington.

"We need to move quickly so we don't have the multiple wildfires that states such as Montana and Idaho are facing," the Democratic governor said.

Both of those states already have turned to the military for help. In Montana, a 500-member Army battalion from Kentucky arrived for wildfire duty Friday as the state moved toward its sixth week of catastrophic burning. High winds fanned two major wildfires in Montana's Bitterroot Valley and prompted more evacuations Friday.

Temperatures in the 90s and 40 mph winds were expected in areas of Montana, where some of the West's 25 major fires are burning. The National Weather Service said the hot, breezy weather could continue through the weekend in Montana, Idaho and Washington.

"We just don't see a real end in sight," said E. Lynn Burkett, spokeswoman for the National Interagency Fire Center in Idaho.

In Washington, crews were working Saturday on fire breaks along the east and northeast edges of the Mule Dry blaze to keep it from spreading closer to the towns of Mabton and Prosser, both about three miles from the flames. More than 320 National Guard troops and 180 Department of Natural Resources personnel were due Saturday to join the 650 firefighters and support staff on site, said fire information officer Cynthia Reichelt. Six bulldozers, 16 engines and several helicopters were at the scene.

"We're using dozers to clear everything away . . . and trying to back-burn where we can so, if we do get high winds this afternoon, we'll be ready for it," Reichelt said.

The blaze is 26 miles long and 15 or 16 miles deep, she said.

The Mule Dry fire, named for a creek running through the million-acre Yakama Nation reservation, has consumed 24 outbuildings on and off the reservation since it was sparked by lightning Wednesday.

Gusts of up to 35 mph were forecast Saturday--compared with Friday's 10- to 25-mph winds--with low humidity, she said.

A second Washington fire--the Long House 2--was burning in neighboring Klickitat County. The 600-acre fire, sparked by lightning, was 50% contained Friday.

Locke said he turned to the National Guard for help on the Mule Dry fire because of a shortage of firefighters throughout the West.

About 380 of the National Guard members received three days of firefighting training earlier this month and were expected to arrive on the fire lines by today.

Wind and tinder-dry conditions have worked against fire crews in arid southern Washington, where only about 7 inches of precipitation falls annually.Many areas east of Washington's Cascade Mountains have not received measurable rainfall for a month and a half.

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