Gale-force wind eased as more than 1,000 soldiers flew to Yellowstone National Park on Monday to relieve some of the weary firefighters who have spent weeks battling blazes that have charred more than 350,000 acres.
The first wave of the 1,200 soldiers from Fort Lewis, Wash., was expected to arrive Monday to help contain a fire burning out of the northeastern corner of Yellowstone that is threatening two communities in southern Montana.The first 600 infantrymen from 4th Battalion, 23rd Infantry of the 111th Field Artillery were expected to be on fire lines by Tuesday or Wednesday.
Elsewhere, crews mopped up after three fires that totaled about 13,000 acres and had threatened the tribal capital of Lame Deer on the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation in southeastern Montana. But just south of the reservation, the Kirby fire had grown to 10,000 to 12,000 acres and was out of control, Don Kendall of the Department of State Lands said Monday.
And in northern Idaho, hot, dry wind Sunday plagued 200 fire-fighters in the Nez Perce National Forest, where a 320-acre fire burned in inaccessible terrain 11 miles north of the Salmon River.
In southern Montana, the soldiers will try to stop the 156,000-acre Clover-Mist fire that has burned out of Yellowstone to within two miles of Cooke City and Silvergate.
"They've continued to be able to save structures. Also they're hoping they can stop the fire from reaching the area," said Yellowstone spokeswoman Joan Anzelmo.
No evacuations have been ordered, but some residents have left on their own, she said.
"We're realists," said Howard Sloan, of Cooke City. "We've watched the fire go past containment line after containment line, and we're scared."
At times Saturday, the fires created a spectacular sight.
"There were walls of flame that can be anywhere from 100-300 feet high. No humans and no equipment can stop fires when they're in that stage," Anzelmo said.
Fires that had covered around 280,000 acres of the park Saturday had spread over at least 350,000 acres by Sunday, or about 16 percent of the park's 2.2 million acres, An-zelmo said.
Yellowstone's south entrance remained closed indefinitely Monday, as was the Grant Village area, which contains a hotel, a campground, a visitor center and housing for staff. Grant Village was closed Saturday because of a flareup of the Red-Shoshone fire. Large sections of highway in the park also were closed, as were several campgrounds.
South of Yellowstone, the Rockefeller Memorial Parkway connecting the park with Grand Teton National Park was closed because of two fires in the Bridger-Teton National Forest. Officials evacuated the Teton Science School, several ranches and two campgrounds.
In Montana, fire crews battling a 37,200-acre forest fire southeast of Helena dug fire lines by hand Monday on the southern edge of the fire, officials said.
Fire information officer Bob Krepps said the crews were going into rugged terrain in the Elkhorn Mountains, in an attempt to contain the southern edge of the blaze that has burned 10 houses and cabins.