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Gov. Racicot: Certain Precautions and Practices Could Have Minimized Impact of Fires Out WestAired August 10, 2000 - 2:01 p.m. ET
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NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: We begin this hour in the west, where the worst of the region's wildfire is burning in Montana today. It's part of a complex of dozens of fires now roaring across 12 western states. Already, up to 400,000 wilderness acres have burned in Montana, concentrated in the western half of the state. Conditions are described as explosive and officials say those fires are likely to get worse.
Joining us by telephone from the Montana capital city of Helena is governor Marc Racicot.
Governor, we talked with you a couple of days ago when it -- the situation there was horrible and how very sad that its gotten even worse now.
GOV. MARC RACICOT (R), MONTANA: You're absolutely correct, Natalie, it's been very, very challenging. I can tell you, however, the resilience, the durability of all the people who are working so hard to address these issues is an inspiration. But we're up against great odds and there is substantial difficulty that we're having to focus on.
ALLEN: You've called in the National Guard now, what will they be able to try and do?
RACICOT: Well, we actually, some of the National Guard, some period of time ago, they've been on the fire lines, working as firefighters. We've trained them before and they've done this duty before. We also have them providing security for and efforts to enforce the closures on the public lands in the western part of the state.
So they're performing a multiple number of different functions, providing medical attention as well. They are very versatile and capable of doing a lot of different things. It's just that we have limits, of course, and we can't respond to virtually every scene with every degree of resource that we'd like to be able to.
ALLEN: And what about the health hazards, at this point, as far as just people in the area and so much smoke? and as well, the business hit that your state will take? This has even closed down roads in Montana. RACICOT: You're absolutely correct, and it's incredible in its implications. Power lines, of course, are impacted by fires. So power that gets transported through the state of Montana and is used in the state of Montana out to the West Coast has been interrupted. We have nursing homes and correctional facilities that we have to evacuate and make certain that we address and take care of. There are deliveries of meals on wheels.
There are just so many different things, you can't imagine, that are interrupted by these incendiary of fires that we have here in the state of Montana. Some of which, in our judgment, if we'd have been properly planning, could have been taken care of, and some of the danger eliminated over the course of the last several years.
ALLEN: Well, do you think you could have properly planned for something as expansive as this?
RACICOT: Well, I think that we could have limited the possibilities for harm. Clearly the drought conditions have contributed. The lack of appropriate resources at the federal level being allocated to some departments could have helped in fire suppression and prevention activities.
But there's also a very real cause that's contributing to the explosive raging fires that we have. And that is that for too long in this country we've had federal management policies that, in our forests, that have allowed for the accumulation of biomass. Because we don't have a balanced management system in place that allows for us to make sure we protect water quality and wildlife and proceed with appropriate thinning and harvesting procedures that, in the end, can reduce those fuels and eliminate so much of the explosive character of these fires.
ALLEN: Well, perhaps you will be listened to after your state survives all of this, and how you could have been better prepared. And we thank you again, and thanks for talking with us, again, Governor.
RACICOT: Thank you very much for your interest.
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