Yellowstone fires tax Forest Service funds as well as firefighters

Fires continue to take their toll at the nation's oldest park, forcing the first-ever evacuation of the Old Faithful Geyser area and depleting the Forest Service's firefighting funds. Because of this summer's massive fires on public lands, the US Forest Service said it may have to raid a reforestation trust fund for a second straight year to pay its fast-mounting firefighting bill.

The Forest Service already has spent $190 million this year on firefighting, and the Western fire season is just entering its traditional peak month. In 1987, the Forest Service spent $265 million to fight Western fires.

An Interior Department appropriations bill now pending in Congress includes $125 million for firefighting. Rep. Peter DeFazio (D) of Oregon said Tuesday that most of the money will be used to repay last year's borrowings from the Knutsen-Vanderberg trust fund.

At Yellowstone National Park, winds pushed the 144,700-acre North Fork blaze to within three-quarters of a mile of the popular Old Faithful tourist complex yesterday morning.

The 500 to 600 visitors and nonessential employees were ordered to leave for safety reasons and to allow firefighters access to protect structures, including the wooden Old Faithful Inn, the Forest Service said.

Meanwhile, two small tourist towns on Yellowstone's northern border were threatened by another of the 13 major fires that have charred the park.

Firefighters yesterday hoped a stiff west wind would hold to keep flames from jumping a 20-foot firebreak separating the giant Storm Creek fire from Cooke City and Silver Gate, Mont.

Both towns, with a combined year-round population of 150, were ordered evacuated Tuesday.

Thirteen major fires have burned 634,000 acres of Yellowstone's 2.2 million-acres, as well as surrounding national forest land.

The Boise Interagency Fire Center, the coordinating office for firefighting in the West, said fires this year have charred 3.65 million acres, an area larger than Connecticut. Slightly more than 2 million of the acres are in Alaska.

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