Firefighters in Western States Battle 60 Active Blazes

Federal officials on Friday were tracking 60 large, active fires that were burning more than 1 million acres, or more than 1,500 square miles, across the West.

The states in the region with the most number of fires included Idaho, Nevada, and Montana, according to the Web site of the Boise-based National Interagency Fire Center, composed of various federal agencies that coordinate to battle wildfires.

In Idaho, fires had burned more than 231,000 acres, or 360 square miles, the center reported.

State officials toured fire camps to survey the damage — as well as to tell federal firefighting crews here, who are strapped for personnel, that the state is ready to provide assistance from National Guard troops who could transport both equipment and firefighters, should they be needed.

Already, 49 National Guard soldiers were providing security and traffic control on fires, keeping residents, hunters and the curious out of harm's way. Gov. Jim Risch has also asked the state's colleges and universities to allow student-firefighters to stay on the firelines without penalty for not reporting for school.

Fire officials in Nevada said it appeared they were winning against two of the largest wildland fires in the nation.

Joe Ribar, head of the National Area Command Team in Elko, said crews had "turned the corner" overnight on a 144,237-acre, or 225 square mile, fire in northern Nevada, bringing it to 60 percent containment. He said they also may have turned the corner on a 109,711-acre, or 171 square mile, blaze. It was 25 percent contained.

In southern Montana, crews set backfires to keep a massive fire from spreading. The fire, estimated at 205,000 acres, or 320 square miles, was 55 percent contained, but fire information officer Dave Daniels said the hope was aggressive backburns would speed containment.

The fire, which started Aug. 22 from lightning, earlier burned 26 homes, but fire crews have prevented the loss of any additional homes, Daniels said. Authorities expect to begin allowing residents of 265 homes that were evacuated on Sunday to begin returning, but they would remain on alert in case conditions changed again.

"My sense is that people in this country seem to understand the need for this," Daniels said. "You live close to nature and these things happen."