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The BBC's David Willis
"An area of awesome beauty slowly being destroyed"
 real 56k

Sue Tholon, National Interagency Fire Centre
"An additional 26,000 acres are burning"
 real 28k

Fire specialist James Smalley
"We have actually increased our problem by suppressing fires so well"
 real 28k

Monday, 7 August, 2000, 19:20 GMT 20:20 UK
US fires spark mass exodus
Fires in Idaho
There is a massive fire-fighting operation
Hundreds of people have evacuated their homes in south-west Montana, as fires continue to rage across 11 western US states.

Officials have said this is the worst fire season seen in the US in 50 years, with firefighting operations costing the federal government about $15m a day.

Burnt out cars, Montana
The fires are leaving a trail of destruction
President Bill Clinton will travel to the state of Idaho on Tuesday, where he is expected to offer words of encouragement to exhausted fire crews.

At least eight houses were among 15 buildings consumed by fire in Montana's Bitterroot Valley.

There were 65 major fires active on Monday that had burnt about 826,800 acres, according to the National Fire Information Centre in Boise, Idaho.

The BBC's correspondent in Idaho, David Willis, says this is considered to be a crisis of epic proportions, with authorities conceding they are in danger of being overwhelmed.

Many fires in Idaho and Montana will probably burn until the snow season said Forest Service Chief Michael Dombeck on Monday.

"Our fire season could be another two months, maybe a little longer," he said.

Shortage of manpower

Fires have smouldered in parts of Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.

US fire facts
Worst fire season in 50 years
More than 62,000 wildfires reported this year
1.52 million hectares burned
More than 20,000 firefighters now mobilised
Minimum 700 fire engines, 150 aircraft deployed
$15m a day to contain the fires
More than 1,000 marines and army troops are helping with the operation in Idaho.

Water from lakes normally used for water sports is being collected by National Guard helicopters and dumped on the fires.

But even with this extra manpower, the operation is still stretched.

Those in charge, he says, are now facing difficult choices about which areas they should attempt to save and those which they should leave to burn.

Authorities in Colorado have called for more help in battling a 5,000-acre blaze at Mesa Verde National Park where fire threatens ancient cliff dwellings.

Oregon has declared a state of emergency and brought in the national guard to deal with 500 acres of fire.

Fighting fire with fire

Firefighters made headway against blazes in California and Utah over the weekend.

US Military troops
Military troops have joined forces with the firefighters
But the situation could worsen, with dry lightning storms expected this week in the eastern Sierras of California, Utah and Washington.

In some states, firemen are trying to fight fire with fire by scorching areas in advance of the blaze, so there is nothing to feed the flames.

Propelled by high winds, the flames can travel a quarter-of-a-mile per minute. A single storm can cause as many as 300 new fires.

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See also:

07 Aug 00 | Americas
US fires: State by state
06 Aug 00 | Americas
Picture gallery: US inferno
06 Aug 00 | Americas
Weather worsens US fires
05 Aug 00 | Americas
California facing power cuts
11 Jul 00 | Europe
Fighting forest fires
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