Firefighters battling wildfires braced for higher winds Friday after a pep talk from presidential candidate Michael Dukakis, who expressed awe at nature's devastation.
"I can't remember a year in my lifetime when the weather seemed to be more important to us in many ways," the 55-year-old Democrat said Thursday while touring fire-blackened Yellowstone National Park."The drought, the heat, and now a massive hurricane bearing down on us are reminding us not only of our mortality but of the importance of pulling together and caring for each other," the Massachusetts governor said.
Blazes burned Thursday in Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Oregon and Washington state as the worst fire season in 30 years continued. More than 4 million acres, including 1.75 million acres in Alaska, have gone up in smoke.
The 8,400 soldiers and civilian firefighters in drought-parched Yellowstone got a break this week from cooler, calmer weather, but Park Superintendent Bob Barbee said, "We're not out of the woods yet."
Firefighters continued to beef up protection of areas that could be threatened if conditions worsened. Efforts Thursday focused on Lake Village, which could be threatened by a 335,000-acre fire, said fire information officer Bob Valen.
Winds Friday were expected to hit 10 to 20 mph, but the forecast contained some good news: a Canadian cold front bearing
ool, rainy weather was expected to reach Yellowstone by Sunday.
Dukakis toured Yellowstone with the Democratic governors of Wyoming, Montana, Colorado and Idaho.
"I know I speak for every single American citizen when I tell you we are grateful to you and I know you have been taking on what is a massive undertaking," Dukakis told firefighters, adding he was "awestruck by what's happened here."
The fires, which now form one huge blaze, have affected 1.1 million acres of the 2.2 million-acre park. But according to new infrared scans, they have burned only about 50 to 60 percent of the land within fire perimeters.
Dukakis refused to be drawn into the debate over whether the Reagan administration should have acted sooner. Following National Park Ser-vice policy, the government allowed naturally ignited fires to burn until July.
The other governors agreed that the Park Service should have attacked the fires sooner because of this year's dry conditions, said Colorado Gov. Roy Romer.
Interior Secretary Donald Hodel has said the "let-burn" policy may be changed.
In west-central Montana on Thursday, soldiers began relieving weary firefighters mopping up the smoldering 247,000-acre Canyon Creek fire. In Glacier National Park near the Canadian border, winds and temperatures in the 80s kept nearly 1,000 firefighters busy.
Officials expected the Glacier fire to continue spreading east Friday as shifting winds gust to 25 mph, said fire information officer Jim Payne.
In Idaho, about 300,000 acres of forest fires continued to burn.
In Washington, officials said land in the eastern section of the state would be reopened to the public this weekend due to gains made against wildfires. A ban on hunting and fishing was to be lifted at midnight Friday, and statewide bans on logging were relaxed.