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Saturday, 12 August, 2000, 15:14 GMT 16:14 UK
Firefighter dies as blazes rage
US forest fire
Fires have now consumed vast areas of forest
One firefighter has been killed and another injured when a forest fire they were tackling engulfed their fire truck.

The pair had been battling a blaze in Wyoming, one of 60 major fires fuelled by high temperatures and strong winds continuing to sweep through the western United States.

His colleague was taken to hospital suffering burns and smoke inhalation, where his condition is described as stable.

Eight firefighters have now died fighting the worst forest fires in decades, and which have affected 11 states.

In addition, two people have died from heart attacks while fleeing their homes, and one reserve firefighter was killed in a training exercise.

affected states
Idaho and Montana are worst hit
Nearly one million acres of forest and grassland have now burned across the western states ranging from Washington in the north to Arizona in the south.

On Friday, fire officials announced the number of major fires had fallen from 65 to 60.

Fire chiefs in California, New Mexico, and Oregon have reported that all major fires have been contained.

However, some of the worst fires continue to rage through Montana - which has lost about 190,000 acres of forest - and Idaho, which has seen more than 400,000 acres destroyed.

New threat

Lightning strikes are also constantly threatening to spark new blazes. In Montana, officials say they believe about 70 smaller fires have been sparked by lightning.

Fire fighter surveys a forest fire
A ranger surveys the damage
Thousands of firefighters have been joined by US National guardsmen and marines to tackle the blazes - their numbers swelled by the arrival of 79 specialist fire fighters from Australia and New Zealand.

Mexican and Canadian crews are also assisting.

Authorities in Montana say they will allow student fire fighters to return to classes three weeks late if they remain fighting the blazes.

"These students are putting themselves at risk to protect our environment, and it is appropriate we assist them in their efforts," said State Higher Education Commissioner Richard Crofts.

Backfire mistake

However angry residents from Montana's Bitterroot valley have demanded an explanation after fire crews mistakenly destroyed a dozen homes.

Woman uses a mask to prevent smoke inhalation
Many people have been evacuated from affected areas
Firecrews were trying to create a 'backfire' - an artificial and supposedly controlled blaze designed to create a gap to stop the main fire spreading.

"It was careless disregard for life...it was arson," said one resident, Joan Giles, who saw her home destroyed.

About 50 homes in the district have now been destroyed, where fires cover about 175,000 acres.

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See also:

10 Aug 00 | Americas
Uphill task for US fire fighters
08 Aug 00 | Americas
US struggles against inferno
07 Aug 00 | Americas
US fires: State by state
08 Aug 00 | Sci/Tech
Flourishing forests need fires
06 Aug 00 | Americas
Picture gallery: US inferno
06 Aug 00 | Americas
Weather worsens US fires
11 Jul 00 | Europe
Fighting forest fires
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