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CNN Today

Gov. Racicot: Cooperation on All Levels of Fighting Montana Fires Extraordinary

Aired August 8, 2000 - 2:22 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: A visit from the commander-in-chief, this afternoon, for the troops fighting on the front lines in Idaho against some of the worst wildfires out west. The flames have scorched more than four million acres of forest and wilderness in what's being called the worst fire season in nearly half a century.

President Clinton is there at this hour with encouragement for the weary firefighters in the hard-hit state. He's also releasing $150 million in emergency funds to help with the firefighting efforts.

Just a few minutes ago, the president offered his personal thanks to the firefighters.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I know that Mother Nature will burn in our forests one way or the other. But it matters how it happens. It matters that people don't die. It matters that property and -- is saved. It matters that precious and irreplaceable things are saved. And you are doing that. I know a lot of the...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WATERS: The National Fire Information Center counts 11 large fires in Idaho today, two of those are new. Those fires cover a 400,000-acre area.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Idaho's neighbor is also among the hardest hit states by wildfire this week. Twenty large fires are now reported in Montana, involving more than 200,000 acres. Hundreds of residents there have been forced from their homes. Much of the state is cloaked in a blanket of smoke, and fires closed the major highway between Idaho and Montana. Officials say they are having to send crews back into areas that were once thought to be under control.

Montana Governor Marc Racicot toured his fire-ravaged state yesterday, he joins us now with his impressions and the latest on the firefighting efforts.

Governor, thank you for joining us, and tell us about your trip across the state. Was it a heart-wrenching visit? GOV. MARC RACICOT (R), MONTANA: Well, there's no question, Natalie. But it makes you heart sick to see these assets, national assets, and of course, people's property and their homes being placed at risk. Overnight we've been able to calculate that there are many, many homes, perhaps as many as 120 that have been destroyed and burned, and of course, as you mentioned, and thousands and thousand of acres.

So it does make you feel very sad and it also, at the same point in time, makes you grateful for all of the people who are working so hard at virtually every level; the federal, state and local level, doing everything they can possibly can to address these issues.

ALLEN: All right, we mentioned 7,500 firefighters are working in Montana alone, that seems like so many. And then you look at these pictures of these firefighters and you realize, they're really, really up against some very difficult conditions.

RACICOT: Historically, Natalie, I've about talked to all of the fire managers, some of them have 35 years of experience. And they have virtually nothing to compare this to. As a matter of fact, the only thing that they can compare it to historically is the fires of 1910; which as you know, ravaged the western United States in a way that has been unparalleled since that moment in time.

So we have the potential for extraordinary catastrophe to continue to occur. We're working as hard as we possibly can and saying our prayers as often as we can to see if there isn't some possibility for all of us to not only work here but also seek some opportunities for the weather to change. And that would profoundly influence what would happen here in Montana.

ALLEN: Well, President Clinton is out west today, offering $150 million in emergency aid. Can that help your state?

RACICOT: Well, unquestionably, I want to make it very plain that the federal authorities, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Forest Service, all of them have been extraordinarily fine partners in this effort. We -- you just wouldn't believe the level of cooperation and coordination and effectiveness of people at virtually every level, from local volunteer fire departments to all of those that are associated with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and everyone in between.

They just give more than a full measure. They work so hard and they are battling such challenging circumstances. So president's efforts in this regard will be of great benefit to us. We just need to continue to do our best and hope through our prayers that we'll be able to deal with the situation in a way that doesn't bring further catastrophe.

ALLEN: We wish you well. We know you have your hands full. We thank you for joining us today.

RACICOT: Thank you very much.

ALLEN: Governor Marc Racicot of Montana.

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