Heat, 35-mph winds and several new lightning-sparked wildfires frustrated crews battling blazes in Yellowstone National Park, and nearly 50 fires burned out of control Tuesday over 11/2 million acres of Alaska forest.
Park Service officials opened Yellowstone's south entrance for just one hour Monday before smoke and flames from the wind-driven 13,100-acre Shoshone fire forced them to close it again.A total of 120,725 acres of the park have been charred by a dozen fires, but firefighters managed to stop flames that advanced to within four miles of Old Faithful Monday by dropping water and fire retardant from the sky.
"Today has been a rather frustrating day in that we picked up winds throughout the park with gusts ranging to 35 mph," said Park Service spokesman Jim Harpster. "It's been hot and dry with temperatures in the 80s and the forecast shows no promise of improvement."
Harpster said a huge reddish-brown plume of smoke above the 10,090-acre Fan Fire in the northwest corner of the nation's oldest national park could be seen from park headquarters 15 miles away.
Elsewhere in the West, high winds spread the largest of five blazes in Montana as well as two huge wildfires in Alaska, where nearly 11/2 million acres were ablaze from a total of 46 fires.
Birch Creek, a village of less than 100 people in Alaska, was poised for evacuation if necessary from an 168,000-acre blaze burning out of control 10 miles away.
Alaska's biggest blaze also was whipped by high winds and grew to 452,000 acres north of Fairbanks and the mining town of Livengood.
Both of those Alaska fires were burning on the 8.6 million-acre Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge. Firefighters were battling only nine of the state's fires.
Montana had five fires, with the worst the Rock Creek Fire in the Bitterroot National Forest. It was 85 percent contained but when fanned by winds grew to 3,150 acres. Full containment was targeted for Tuesday evening.
At Wyoming's Yellowstone Park, firefighters succeeded in stopping the 12,700-acre North Fork Fire, burning west of the Old Faithful area, on the side of the blaze closest to the lodge area.
Seven helicopters toting giant buckets of water attached to cables and an air tanker carrying fire retardant bombarded the blaze and winds helped direct it away from the famed geyser.
The Shoshone fire on the west side of Yellowstone Lake, lying between the south entrance and West Thumb, forced closure of the south entrance at 10 a.m. The entrance had been opened Sunday for the first time in more than a week.