Firefighters created their own inferno, burning 500 acres of timber to save two towns and smother the largest fire in Yellowstone National Park.
By burning the forest ahead of the 182,000-acre Clover-Mist fire, firefighters said, they finally scored a victory after weeks on the defensive. The blaze would choke without fuel before it could cross a highway and bear down on Crandall, Wyo., Cooke City, Mont., both towns of 100 residents, and valuable timber forests, officials said."It wanted to rear up and get us but we're going to get it first," said Pat Kaunert, U.S. Forest Service fire information officer. "We're throwing everything we've got at it."
While firefighters made their stand, they held ground elsewhere.
Monday, firefighters inside Yellowstone were told they would have a second day of relatively light wind, after a night in which temperatures dropped to 29 degrees at Old Faithful geyser. Higher temperatures and wind were expected later in the week.
In the southern Montana Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness north of Yellowstone, Storm Creek fire grew by 500 acres overnight to 40,300 acres, prompting some concern for a large guest ranch 21/2 miles away, said Nick Tafoya, fire information officer.
In western Montana, the 1,900-acre Lolo Creek fire was blocked and did not expand overnight, but several crews of firefighters and a dozen pumper trucks were massed on its south side to protect more than 56 homes, said Drew Bellon, fire information officer.
The Combination fire between Philipsburg and Drummong in southwestern Montana grew to 10,450 acres overnight and firefighters were concerned that wind might push it east toward the small community of Maxville, said Palmer Bowen, fire information officer.
In Idaho, firefighters battled blazes that have burned more than 60,000 acres. Fires continued out of control in the Payette, Nez Perce, Boise, Challis, Clearwater, Salmon, Caribou and Idaho Panhandle national forests and in the Selway-Bitterroot and Frank Church River Of No Return wilderness areas.
Six major groups of fires have burned 19,000 acres in Washington but the bigger fires in Montana and Wyoming have priority for crews and supplies, officials said.
With the wind blowing back toward Clover-Mist, a crew of 19 "hot shots" paraded through the timber Sunday dropping a flaming mixture of diesel fuel and gasoline at their feet.
"Hey, we're having fun now," one said as he followed the carefully orchestrated routes.
Flames danced 100 feet into the smoke and bright red fire raced through the dry timber, creating a ferocious roar. Heat became so intense in some spots that the hot shots had to shield their faces.