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The BBC's Phillippa Thomas
"It could get worse before it's over"
 real 56k

Saturday, 26 August, 2000, 08:30 GMT 09:30 UK
US braces for fire storm
Forest fire in the western US
Fires rage on despite cooler weekend temperatures
President Clinton has ordered an extra 2,000 government workers to help put out forest fires raging across the western United States.

Forecasters say a combination of dry weather and strong winds in the coming days could make the situation even worse.

In the last few weeks thousands of firefighters have been battling dozens of large wildfires covering a total of 560,000 hectares (1.4 million acres).

Fourteen firefighters have also been killed in the blazes which have been described as the worst for 50 years.

forest fire/lake
A blaze in Wyoming's Grand Teton National Park
So far the US Government has spent more than $400m in the battle, with more than a month to go in the dry season, forestry officials say.

The extra workers are being drafted in to help efforts to put out more than 80 fires which are burning out of control.

Scant rainfall has left woodlands and forest floors tinder-dry and particularly vulnerable to lightning.

Faced with destruction on such a big scale, the Americans have enlisted the help of 25,000 people including fire crews from as far away as Canada, Mexico, Australia and New Zealand.

Even as the operation to put out the fires continues, some experts have questioned the wisdom of planting trees so closely together in man-made forests.

They say the dense growth makes fires much harder to extinguish.


The wildfires have also been hitting tourism in the Rocky Mountains.

In Montana the authorities have put 30 of the state's 56 counties under official use restrictions, meaning people need special permits to use the land.

A spokeswoman at the Montana governor's office, Mary Jo Fox, said the area affected "is the most heavily used by tourists and the most heavily forested".

"It is beginning to have an impact on tourism because of this perception that the entire state is closed," said Mrs Fox.

Forest fire scene
Huge areas of woodland have been destroyed
The governor's closure order limits most recreational activities.

"Yellowstone and Glacier (parks) are still open, but they are still seeing tourism drop," she said.

Wildfires are also raging in Arizona, California, Florida, Nevada, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.

The biggest inferno - dubbed "Clear Creek" by firefighters - has incinerated much of Idaho's Salmon-Challis National Forest.

Meanwhile in Montana, the "Valley Complex" blaze has destroyed a huge swathe of the Bitterroot National Forest.

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See also:

20 Aug 00 | Americas
Wind fans US fires
13 Aug 00 | Americas
Overseas experts boost fire effort
10 Aug 00 | Americas
Uphill task for US fire fighters
08 Aug 00 | Sci/Tech
Flourishing forests need fires
11 Jul 00 | Europe
Fighting forest fires
06 Aug 00 | Americas
Picture gallery: US inferno
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