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Western Wildfires: Cooler Temps Allow Crews to Corral Eight Blazes; U.S. Forest Service Spokesman Discusses Shortage of Manpower

Aired August 21, 2000 - 2:09 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: Finally a break in the weather. Cooler temps allowed fire crews in the West to corral eight large fires in the last 24 hours. Still, 87 major fires are burning today, around 1.3 million acres up in flames.

CNN's Greg Lefevre is stationed in one of the worst fire zones, the Bitterroot Valley. He joins us from the hamlet of Darby, Montana -- Greg.

GREG LEFEVRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning. We are at the Valley fire camp. The Valley complex involves more than 12 major fires. There are 1,000 firefighters working in and around this area.

It was 39 degrees when we got here this morning, cool weather that the firefighters like. But with all of those fires and not enough firefighters, you got trouble on your hands in the days ahead.

With me is John Silvius, who is with the U.S. Forest Service.

John, with big fires and small crews, what do you do? Where do you concentrate?

JOHN SILVIUS, U.S. FOREST SERVICE: We concentrate on keeping people alive, keeping from getting injured, and then concentrate on keeping their homes safe. As you pointed out, we don't have the horse power, we don't have the personnel, we don't have the helicopters, we don't have the equipment to do what we would normally do in a lesser fire season. So the things that we can do is keep them alive and keep their houses as safe as we can.

LEFEVRE: Now, we say smaller crews. Is that because there are so many fires or your budget's cut? What?

SILVIUS: No, it's all because we have so many fires. I mean, it's unparalleled to have 97, 98 fires going simultaneously in the western United States. Fire season in where I come from in California, you have three or four, maybe five major fires going on, but you always have enough personnel. But we've got fires sweeping across the western United States. There's no end in sight, no rain coming till October. We have to divvy up all of our sources into all these different fires, and we just can't staff it the way we'd like to.

LEFEVRE: Well, we certainly wish you the very best of luck. John Silvius with the National Forest Service -- U.S. Forest Service.

One of the little veterans of this fire may be the new Smokey Bear. A young, 8-month-old cub was rescued by a Montana game warden over the weekend. The little fellow was found in a burned-out area near the Razor fire that roared through a canyon near here over the weekend. The little cub was being treated for third-degree burns to all four of his paws. He is now at a veterinary facility not far from here. Biologists say that if all goes well, once he's healed and once he's better, they hope to eventually be able to release this cub back into the wild.

But in the meantime, the fires rage on around this valley, literally encircling the valley, and we'll keep the situation monitored.

Greg Lefevre, CNN, reporting live in Darby, Montana.

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