As persistent heavy rains and flooding dogged the eastern United States, wildfires raged out of control in the west. As of Friday, August 20, there were 85 major fires burning across the region, with over a million acres burning. Eleven new fires started on Saturday, August 21. Interior Secretary Bruce Babbit said that the fires are likely to get worse, and high winds predicted over the weekend seemed to confirm this. Babbit said that every available fire crew supervisor is already on the job, including some from as far away as Australia and New Zealand. Despite this, 500 more troops are being rushed into the area, even though there are no supervisors available to manage their efforts.
Babbit stated that firefighters have “a blank check” to draw on the US Treasury.
Most of the fires are located in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming, and the situation could become catastrophic in Montana over the weekend as fires merge.
“I don’t want to be an alarmist, and I’m not saying it will become catastrophic,” Babbit said, “but the probability that it will become worse is very high.”
So far, fires in the west have consumed almost five million acres. The worst fire season on record was 1910, when eight million acres were consumed. If the present season is not interrupted by rainfall, that total could be exceeded by the end of September.
Satellite views show smoke plumes over a thousand miles long, stretching deep into the midwest.
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