Fires become routine enough that there are guided tours of fire camp

HELENA, Mont. - The western wildfire season is settling into a grim routine, symbolized by one small event in Montana's Bitterroot Valley: The U.S. Forest Service now is giving guided tours of fire camp.

''We're showing people around, trying to convey what type of organization it requires to support a major fire campaign,'' said Tom Horner, a Forest Service information officer who gives tours. ''Where we eat, where we sleep, how we plan what we're going to do.''

The tours are offered three times a day, with up to 35 people on each. Children have the opportunity to try on firefighters' yellow shirts, green pants and packs, which include survival shelters.

More than 242,000 acres have burned in the Bitterroot area, and the numbers continue to grow. In all of Montana, 27 major fires are burning on 446,262 acres. There are 7,677 people fighting them, and 175 buildings have been destroyed since late July.

Nationally, the National Interagency Fire Center reported that 86 large fires were burning on 1.1 million acres. Montana had the most burning acreage, followed by Idaho with 25 significant fires on 408,826 acres.

New fires continued to erupt. About 100 people were advised to evacuate an area between Helena and Bozeman on Thursday because of a 20,000-acre wildfire that began Tuesday with a spark from farm equipment in a grain field.

In Idaho, officials closed the main Salmon River on Thursday, a decision affecting more than 90 river guides and hunting outfitters and thousands of tourists. Al Bukowsky, owner of Solitude River Trips in Salmon, said he lost nearly $40,000 that was to come from a single tour planned by Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins and other actors that was to begin on Friday.

''Fortunately, I was down to my last trip, so I lost gross revenues from one trip,'' Bukowsky said. ''It's not as bad as someone who lost four or five trips.''

Former Idaho Gov. Cecil Andrus took a six-day trip down the Salmon River last week. Andrus said when the group drove back from Corn Creek, ''the hillsides were burning right alongside the road and there was burning material rolling right down the sides into the bar ditch.''

In Wyoming, authorities closed the highway between Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks because of a fire. Tourists jammed the lobby of Jackson Lodge in the nearby town of Moran with questions about possible lodging cancellations, road closures and directions for a detour.

Firefighters poured retardant gel on park employee housing at Yellowstone's south entrance and the Flagg Ranch resort, just outside the entrance, where some of 400 people evacuated Tuesday night had been vacationing or working.


On the Net:

National Interagency Fire Center:

Forest Service:


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