PROSSER, Wash. -- As wildfires continue to rage and firefighting resources are strained across the West, Washington is calling out the troops.
Gov. Gary Locke on Friday recruited 530 National Guard members to help fight a 100,000-acre blaze racing across parched sagebrush in southern Washington.
"This is a large, fast-moving fire that already has caused at least $1 million in damage," Locke said. "More than 600 men and women have been fighting it ... and now we need to give them help urgently."
With low humidity and wind gusts of up to 35 mph forecast Saturday, crews worried that the fire could jump a ridge and reach populated areas, said Cynthia Reichelt of the U.S. Forest Service.
"We could be looking at some really busy fire behavior," she said.
By burning brush and grass and using the area's maze of farm-to-market roads as firebreaks, crews hoped to prevent the flames from spreading.
The blaze, sparked by lightning Wednesday, has consumed 24 outbuildings on and off the Yakama Nation reservation. Fifty homes were evacuated.
More than 5.92 million acres have burned across the United States this year in what has been called the worst western fire season in a half-century.
President Clinton on Friday ordered the federal government to make as many as 2,000 managers and supervisors available to support the firefighting efforts. The Agriculture and Interior departments will immediately send personnel to assume management and supervisory positions.
"Our federal firefighters and management personnel are working under extremely dangerous conditions to protect the public and our lands from the threat of these wildfires," Clinton said.
An Army battalion from Fort Campbell, Ky., began arriving Friday for wildfire duty in Montana, which will soon enter its sixth week of catastrophic burning.
The 500 soldiers, plus support personnel, will bring the number of people fighting Montana wildfires to about 12,000, according to the National Interagency Fire Center in Idaho. Five hundred additional soldiers from Fort Bragg, N.C., are expected to arrive Monday.
High wind fanned two major wildfires in Montana's Bitterroot Valley and prompted more evacuations Friday.
Jim Chinn of the Ravalli County Sheriff's Department said many of the hundreds of residents forced out earlier are back in their homes, but he didn't know exactly how many.
The American Red Cross began distributing air filters to asthmatics in Montana and others whose health could be endangered by the thick smoke that still hangs over the state. The charity has spent more than $500,000 to assist Montana fire evacuees and others this year.
On the Net:
National Interagency Fire Center: http://www.nifc.gov
American Red Cross: http://www.redcross.org
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