New wildfires ignited as hundreds of soldiers fanned out along fire lines Thursday. A huge blaze threatened one of Yellowstone National Park's most scenic areas, and flames came within a mile of a nuclear missile silo in Montana.
In Oregon, Gov. Neil Goldschmidt declared an emergency Wednesday night, clearing the way for deployment of the National Guard to help fight raging fires. Crews also struggled against blazes in Idaho, Washington and California.The Boise Interagency Fire Center, which coordinates firefighting in the West and Alaska, said 66,000 fires have blackened 3.3 million acres in drought-plagued 1988, some 300,000 acres more than in 1986, considered the region's worst year.
"Obviously, we've got a wild year here," said spokeswoman Bernie Pineda.
In Montana, fire broke out Wednesday afternoon a half-mile from a Minuteman II nuclear missile site between Great Falls and Lewistown, the Air Force said.
The blaze more than doubled to 900 acres overnight, but Zail Chapman, dispatcher for the Helena National Forest in Great Falls, said, "The missile silo is completely secure."
About 240 firefighters were in the area, and the fire was expected to be contained by Thursday night, he said.
Malmstrom Air Force Base at Great Falls sent military police and firefighters to protect the silo Wednesday afternoon but withdrew them during the night, Capt. Donald Planalp said Thursday morning.
"There is really nothing above ground that's flammable," Planalp said.
Firefighters in Yellowstone hoped for continued low winds to help keep the 97,600-acre North Fork fire from moving the one mile to an evacuated campground and hotel complex.
About 360 visitors were evacuated Wednesday as flames advanced to within 1 1/2 miles of the Canyon Village compound.
"It's a hassle," said visitor Pat Bentz of Prineville, Ore. "I just hope I don't have to go through this kind of thing again."
The evacuation left only firefighters and reporters to contend with the heavy smoke that obscured the sun and veiled views of the 308-foot Lower Falls and 109-foot Upper Falls.
Ten fires involving 355,000 acres were burning in Yellowstone, closing five other campgrounds, the Grant Village hotel area and the south entrance.
Firefighters at the 156,500-acre Clover-Mist fire in northeastern Yellowstone received aid from 635 soldiers from Fort Lewis, Wash., who took over mop-up work on the fire's east flank in the Shoshone National Forest.
To the south in Grand Teton National Park and the Bridger-Teton National Forest, firefighters planned to guide a 16,000-acre fire toward Yellowstone's southern border, where they hoped it would join two other blazes and consume all available fuel.
To the east, Bighorn National Forest officials hoped to contain an 11,000-acre fire by Thursday night.
In southern Montana, about 600 more firefighters headed for the 28,000-acre Storm Creek fire in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness. Management of the firefighting was handed over Wednesday to a top-level team from Alaska.
Commander Dave Liebersbach said the fire gained between 500 and 1,000 acres on its southern flank Wednesday and was 4 miles from Cooke City, 3 miles closer than Tuesday.
He said a ridge separated the fire and the tourist community just outside Yellowstone's northeast gate. Officials said there was a 10 percent to 20 percent chance the fire could cross the ridge Thursday.
Southeast of Helena, crews neared containment of a 16-day-old blaze that destroyed more than a dozen structures. Firefighters on Wednesday began hand-burning the last troublesome area along fire lines surrounding the 37,200-acre blaze. Officials predicted it would be contained by Friday evening.
A raging fire on the steep slopes of Hells Canyon at the Idaho-Oregon line forced crews to move their base camp to escape the flames. The fire mushroomed Wednesday from 1,200 acres to 2,000, making a run into a stand of timber containing 12 million board feet of wood.
Oregon's state forester, James E. Brown, requested National Guard aircraft to help map the fires.
No ground troops were immediately called out in the governor's emergency order, which applied only to southwest Oregon.
A fire at Ward Canyon in northeastern Oregon grew to 1,000 acres Wednesday, forcing 220 firefighters to abandon the fight and consider moving their threatened camp.
A blaze at Walker Mountain northeast of Grants Pass burned 600 acres by late Wednesday, and authorities drew up contingency evacuation plans for residents.
Lightning storms Tuesday peppered southwestern Oregon, starting at least 60 fires.
In Washington state, winds whipped a fire seven miles northwest of Morton from 50 to 250 acres overnight, while more than firefighters worked to contain a nearby 500-acre blaze.
Near Cloverdale, Calif., about 65 miles north of San Francisco, a grass fire set off by a welder's torch burned a barn and charred some 2,000 acres in steep terrain. The fire was advancing toward a nearby subdivision.