Army grabs a hose to help fight West's fires

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With no end to the hot, dry weather in sight, US officials have called out the military to help contain blazes that are charring thousands of acres from Washington to Texas.

More than 70 fires burned across parts of 10 Western states Wednesday, racing through timber, grass, and brush.

About half of the smaller fires had no crews on hand at all. In some cases, calls for help have been delayed for days because resources have been devoted to major fires.

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"Here we are approaching the end of July, and already resources are thin," says Amy Teegarden, a Forest Service spokeswoman in Helena, Mont. "We're just now getting into what is normally the busy fire season."

In hopes of gaining ground on the fires, Army soldiers will attend crash courses in firefighting techniques organized by the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho.

Center spokeswoman Lorraine Buck said the soldiers should be ready to join fire lines next week.

The last time the Army was called out to battle blazes was in the summer of 1996. Fires that year had burned 3 million acres by July 25; so far this year, fires have burned 2.6 million acres.

The wildfire season began when a prescribed burn set by Forest officials near Los Alamos, N.M., raged out of control and destroyed more than 200 homes in May.

This week, aided by favorable weather, nearly 830 firefighters managed to slow a wildfire that has scorched Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado, threatening the nation's largest archaeological dig.

Firefighting crews, air tankers, and helicopters are in big demand. Federal authorities have asked Canada to send firefighting planes; they've also asked Montana Gov. Marc Racicot to encourage businesses and state agencies to let employees volunteer for fire duty. His state was hit by twin wildfires this week. By Wednesday, the blazes near Canyon Ferry Lake had consumed about 20,000 acres.

"There's more to do than can be done," says Joe Hartman, a fire-management team commander on the Mesa Verde blaze, which has charred 23,000 acres of the national park.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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