HELENA, Mont. -- Cooler temperatures and rain forecast in the northern Rockies through the weekend are giving firefighters hope in their battle against raging wildfires, but fire managers aren't expecting the work to become any easier just yet.
"With rainy weather and cool weather, it's easy to get lulled into thinking this beast has been tamed. It has not," said J.D. Coleman, information officer at the Northern Rockies Coordination Center in Missoula.
But, he added, conditions are "tipping our way."
Rain showers and cooler temperatures were forecast through the weekend, with highs only in the 60s on Sunday.
Smoky air that pervaded southwestern Montana towns since the fire season began dissipated somewhat with Friday's rain.
"Visibility is as good as I have seen it in the more than two weeks that I've been here," information officer Mark Struble said from the base camp for the 173,560-acre fires in the Bitterroot Valley.
Nationally, 68 major fires were burning on 1.7 million acres, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.
President Clinton on Friday declared Idaho a federal disaster area, making people in the nine most-affected counties eligible for federal aid. He made a similar declaration earlier this week for Montana.
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