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Montana Fire's Advance on Town Is Halted

August 03, 2003|From Associated Press

WEST GLACIER, Mont. — Firefighters have won the battle to stop a wildfire's advance on this gateway town to Glacier National Park, officials said Saturday.

Some of the hundreds of people evacuated because of the fire will be able to return this morning. The Flathead County sheriff's office announced Saturday that it is lifting the evacuation order for West Glacier and two other residential areas outside the park.

"This is a big turning point for us," said fire information officer Wyn Menefee.

Three days of risky "back burns" along the eastern front of the fire succeeded in creating a barrier 12 miles long and up to half a mile wide between the fire and the town.

"We've turned the corner," said Rod Dresbach, incident commander for Flathead County.

Although the town was considered safe, the fire was still dangerous and far from controlled.

"Caution is still warranted, but we're slightly more optimistic today than yesterday -- and much more optimistic than three days ago," the deputy commander of the elite fire management team, Lynn Wilcock, said Saturday.

Fire managers began moving some of their 1,000 firefighters and equipment to the western and northern flanks of the blaze Saturday, as other crew members mopped up along the burnout.

The fire has burned more than 23,000 acres, starting in the Flathead National Forest before burning into the park's western edge.

Park Service spokesman Roger Scott said the west side of Glacier would be reopened in phases.

When evacuation orders are lifted, he said, headquarters personnel and workers at the Apgar Village commercial center will return first, and then workers at businesses in the park.

Dresbach said officials would monitor weather and fire conditions Saturday before lifting the evacuation orders.

The blaze was one of three major fires in or along the west edge of Glacier National Park.

In Idaho, where more than 2,200 firefighters battled at least seven fires Saturday, the supervisor of the Salmon-Challis National Forest asked to be reassigned following the deaths of two smoke jumpers in a wildfire in the forest July 22.

George Matejko said the deaths along with a spring fire that destroyed his home in Salmon and killed his pet dogs -- prompted his decision to move.

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