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Archive for Saturday, August 12, 2000

Fire crews overwhelmed battling western blazes

August 12, 2000

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— With too many fires and not enough firefighters, the Montana university system told students Friday they can report for fall classes three weeks late if they stay on the fire lines.

"These students are putting themselves at risk to protect our environment, and it is appropriate that we assist them in their efforts," said Richard Crofts, state commissioner of higher education.

The dangers became all too real Friday to firefighters in Wyoming, where a wind-fuel wildfire engulfed a truck, killing one firefighter and burning another on the Wind River Indian Reservation.

The two firefighters were the only crew members fighting a portion of a blaze in the Owl Creek Mountains, said Perry Baker of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Strong winds had pushed flames out of control, forcing firefighters to back off a 25,000-acre fire and a 5,000-acre fire, both burning in the sparsely populated area of central Wyoming.

Across the west Friday, large fires were burning on more than 900,000 acres.

Firefighters have traveled to the Northern Rockies from throughout the United States and Canada.

Military troops are on fire duty, and retired fire managers have been asked to return. In Idaho, where fires are burning on more than 423,280 acres, 79 firefighters from Australia and New Zealand will join the crews this weekend.

In Montana, an estimated 1,800 students firefighters, including National Guard members and volunteers, are expected to qualify for the late start to the fall semester, a university official said. Classes are scheduled to start Sept. 5 at the University of Montana, but student firefighters will have until Sept. 25 to register.

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