WEST GLACIER, Mont. – Firefighters burned dry timber and other vegetation Wednesday in hopes of slowing the progress of a wildfire that spilled into Glacier National Park (search) and has forced hundreds of people from their homes.
The burnouts were conducted along Apgar Mountain (search), which is on the eastern edge of the 14,500-acre fire and continues to be the area of greatest concern, said fire information officer Pete Buist.
"We feel a lot better after yesterday and today's burnouts than we did two days ago," he said.
Incident commander Joe Stam told dozens of people gathered at a community meeting Wednesday that fire managers still feared lightning might start another fire in the area.
The fire remained about 1 miles from West Glacier (search), the west entrance to the park. The town has about 250 year-round residents and about 400 during the summer.
"We haven't had to evacuate any more people," said fire information officer Bill Beebe. About 500 residents of the town and the forested area along the edge of the park are out of their homes.
Firefighters set backfires (search) or "burnouts" Tuesday to create a 2,000-acre "black line" that might block the fire and draw it away from the headquarters complex of buildings just inside the park near West Glacier.
Burnouts are a common tactic used in wildland firefighting. Fire officials explain that the main fire creates a draft as it consumes oxygen, and that draws the backfire toward it. When the two fires meet, they have no more fuel to burn.
The Robert fire burned into the west edge of the park from the Flathead National Forest. It is one of three major fires burning partly or wholly in the park. They total more than 50,000 acres and occupy more than 2,000 firefighters.
The Wedge Canyon fire, 21,400 acres in extreme northwestern Montana and just six miles from the Canadian border, burned into the western edge of the park from the Flathead National Forest. It has burned six homes and 19 outbuildings and is still threatening about 100 homes and cabins near the north fork of the Flathead River.
The Trapper Creek fire has burned about 18,600 acres on Flattop Mountain, threatening some historic buildings in the park.
In northern Idaho, four homes and several outbuildings were destroyed and about 40 more were evacuated after a fire started Wednesday. Authorities said it may have begun in one home before spreading, and was burning about 110 acres in a wooded area.
The National Interagency Fire Center said major fires also were burning Wednesday in Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming. Fires have charred 1.77 million acres so far this year, compared to 4 million acres by this time last year.