Hundreds Flee Wildfires in Idaho, South Dakota

from Associated Press

Crews set backfires with flame throwers on Wednesday to protect the area around Old Faithful geyser from the worst forest fire outbreak at Yellowstone National Park this century, while wildfires forced hundreds of people from their homes in South Dakota and Idaho.

In Alaska, about 1,200 firefighters battled blazes that burned about 1.3 million acres, an area larger than the state of Delaware, and strong winds fanned two of the largest fires, officials said.

Large fires also burned in Arizona, Oregon, Utah and Washington state.

Secretary of the Interior Donald P. Hodel flew by helicopter over 10,000 charred acres in Yellowstone's southern areas and told 500 firefighters he supports the policy of letting wildfires burn unchecked in wilderness areas unless they endanger buildings, people or roads.

Sees Beneficial Effect

"We aren't going to waste our resources where fires aren't doing harm to the park," he said. "There is a long-term beneficial effect from fire."

Crews took an active role against a 9,700-acre fire burning within six miles of Old Faithful, the park's most famous attraction.

Firefighters with flame throwers started backfires in meadows to direct the blaze away from the geyser and nearby structures.

In all, about 83,000 of Yellowstone's 2.2 million acres have been scorched by fires.

"The last time they had this much fire in the park was in the late 1800s," said Larry Caplinger, a Forest Service official coordinating firefighting.

An 1,800-acre fire west of Rapid City, S.D., prompted the evacuation of more than 500 people, destroyed four homes and damaged another four, said Corbin Newman, fire information officer.

Blaze 70% Contained

An estimated 575 firefighters had the blaze 70% contained on Wednesday. One firefighter suffered a burned neck and a resident suffered smoke inhalation. Another person was hurt in a smoke-caused traffic accident.

A 1,500-acre blaze in Idaho forced two dozen people from their homes about 35 miles north of Boise and crept toward about 50 homes, but officials said the structures were not threatened.

About 130 firefighters got a hand from two helicopters toting water buckets and four air tankers that dropped retardant on the flames.

Alaska's largest fire, 15 miles north of Livengood in the state's interior, was pushed by winds and engulfed 409,000 acres, said Sue Mitchell, a Bureau of Land Management spokeswoman. The fire has been burning since early June.

Most of the fires in Alaska were burning in remote areas and were allowed to burn because they pose no threat to people or property.

A fire northeast of Mt. Rainier National Park in Washington state quickly spread across 1,000 acres in steep terrain, fanned by wind and temperatures near 90.

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