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CNN Today

Canadian Firefighters Lend Assistance to U.S.

Aired August 29, 2000 - 6:01 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: Mammoth wildfires are spreading across Montana, but today a relative dwarf of a fire is causing some of the biggest headaches. The Red Lodge fire is burning just 3,500 acres in south-central Montana, but it's forced officials to close a highway into Yellowstone National Park.

We're now hearing that some of the residents of the Red Lodge are now being allowed back to their homes that they had to evacuate yesterday. So apparently, some progress is being made. We'll check on that in a moment.

Wildfires are burning more than 670,000 acres in Montana. And today, conditions are expected to get even worse.

CNN's Rusty Dornin joins us live from Hamilton with the latest.

And Rusty, I think I just heard you coughing. Smoky there?

RUSTY DORNIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's very smoky here today. It's been smoky all week, but today is particularly bad. The aircraft won't be able to get up in the air until later this afternoon when the smoke subsides a little bit, and hopefully when the winds come up.

But as you said, Lou, 31 of the fires -- the 84 fires -- excuse me -- in the western United States are burning here in Montana. That's more than a third of them. Now, Governor Mark Racicot has now asked the entire state to be declared a federal disaster area. With that much of the state ablaze, folks here have asked for some help from across the border and they're making history.

Joining us now is Len Munroe from the Ontario, Canada Ministry of Natural Resources.

Len, this is a unique operation that's going on: Firefighters coming across the border. Is that not right?

LEN MUNROE, CANADIAN FIREFIGHTER: Well, it certainly is, and this is the first opportunity that we have had to reciprocate with many occasions that American firefighters have helped us in Ontario and in Canada over the years.

DORNIN: How many firefighters are here, and what's the difference in fighting a fire here as opposed to at home? MUNROE: Well, totally, there's about 720 Canadian firefighters here, both firefighters and the management staff. We're from all over Canada, various locations. Our people from Ontario are basically used to using water and the fire pumps, portable fire pumps and the hose.

Ontario is relatively flat compared to Montana, so it's a -- it's a learning experience for us.

DORNIN: Folks have been having a difficult time, the long hours and altitude and that sort of thing?

MUNROE: No, and I really haven't heard of anything like that, but one thing that is not necessarily creating problems, you can get used to after a couple of days, running up and down the hills, and you know, getting used to walking up and down the mountains, getting used to different (UNINTELLIGIBLE) tactics, such as using hand tools and digging lines.

DORNIN: That's what I was going to ask you: Are the differences in the way that the U.S. fights fire and the way the Canadians do, what are the differences?

MUNROE: Well, basically, that we're used to using the water, and we have smaller crews. We have flatter terrain. We're blessed with water in Ontario.

Here in Montana, the exact opposite: that it's really rugged. mountainous terrain, and there is no water.

DORNIN: How long are going to be here? How long are you going to be able to -- you've been here for two weeks.

MUNROE: Our team has been here for two weeks. We are being replaced by another team right now from Ontario that came in last night. And we're just in a transitional phase. We're leaving in a couple of days. The other team will be here for at least 14 days.

DORNIN: Right. Thank you very much, Len Munroe, from Canadian firefighting efforts helping out here: 700 firefighters that are helping out. Today, the winds are supposed to kick up, but there is a cold front and rain is expected in the next few days.

Back to you, Lou.

WATERS: OK, Rusty Dornin, keeping watch in Hamilton, Montana today.

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