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Lt. Benboe: Montana National Guard Mobilized to Supervise Evacuations from Wildfires

Aired August 16, 2000 - 1:04 p.m. ET

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

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: In the United States, the western wildfires have now passed a milestone. They're burning across more than one million acres. Almost half those fires are in Montana, and now the governor is preparing to declare the entire state a disaster area.

CNN's Charles Zewe joins us live from the Bitterroot Valley -- Charles.

CHARLES ZEWE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Natalie, take a look behind me. That's some of the choking smoke that clogs the Bitterroot and Missoula valleys here in southwestern Montana as those fires continue to rage in mountains in this area. This is probably the hardest hit zone of the state, 25 fires burning across mostly western Montana.

As you say, the governor preparing today to declare his entire state a disaster area, that will free up resources namely from the National Guard which will be able to be used anywhere they're needed in the state of Montana in fighting those fires.

Fire officials today telling me that they are holding their own against these fires. They are making some small progress. But the fires here in the Bitterroot Valley are only about 10 percent contained. And while the weather forecast is encouraging a little bit for today, as the week goes on it gets more problematic, more hot dry weather, more potentially dry thunderstorms over the weekend. And those are the kind of thunderstorms that touch off more fires.

As I said, Governor Mark Racicot preparing to declare a state of emergency today. That'll free up some National Guard troops to be used all throughout the state.

One of them is with us now, First Lieutenant Jaime Benboe.

Lieutenant, what will you be doing?

LT. JAIME BENBOE, MONTANA NATIONAL GUARD: Right now we are providing area security and helping with evacuations if need be.

ZEWE: What does that mean? you're manning the barricades into the evacuated areas?

BENBOE: Yes, that's exactly what we're doing. We are working with the sheriff's department. And they're letting us know where the evacuated areas are or are going to be. And then we provide security. A lot of these people have already left homes and we don't want to let anybody in that doesn't belong there, or could be in danger.

ZEWE: People here are very stressed out, very concerned about what may happen to their homes, what are they telling your troops?

BENBOE: A lot of them go up hourly to the checkpoints and ask if they know any information. They're concerned about their homes burning down basically. So they know that they've -- I mean, they've obviously left their home and it's in danger. So they're asking us if we know anything -- any information basically and looking for some support. And I think that the soldiers out there are listening and providing compassion for them, definitely.

ZEWE: Lieutenant -- First Lieutenant Jaime Benboe of the Montana National Guard, A weather alert and health advisory has been issued here for this area of the state. People told that they should stay inside and not exert themselves because of all the of the smoke.

Charles Zewe, CNN, live, Darby, Montana.

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