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Western Wildfires: Rain in Forecast Could Aid Montana Crews

Aired August 30, 2000 - 2:01 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: After weeks of watching smoke choke the Big Sky country, Montana firefighters may get some help from the heavens today. Clouds and rain showers are forecast to cool the fire zone and, in turn, build morale among the tired fire crews.

CNN's Rusty Dornin joins us now from Hamilton, Montana, deep in the Bitterroot Valley -- Rusty.

RUSTY DORNIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Lou, it's nothing like cooler temperatures and the promise of rain to build morale among firefighters, and they've been having such a rough time over the past few weeks.

We're seeing more of a cloud buildup than we've seen in weeks here in Hamilton, Montana, although the temperatures are supposed to be a little warmer today here.

Now, normally -- we're near the Skalkaho fire, which is near Hamilton, and in the afternoon, the behavior is that the fires picks up a little bit, you get torching of the trees. That's when firefighters like the North Carolina firefighters get in and try to dig a line -- dig a trench to stop the advance of the fire and see where they can make any progress.

Now, yesterday, on a flank of the Skalkaho fire, these North Carolina firefighters were able to stop that advance.

Now, fire experts -- behavior experts say that the danger, even with the promise of rain, is far from over.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TOM LANDRY, FIRE BEHAVIOR ANALYST: Montana has an extreme fire situation right now, and the fuels are very volatile. We need a rain event to pretty much give us the break we need to contain these fires. I think, this morning, the smoke is still in the valley and probably won't lift till sometime afternoon, in which case that shading that it provides to the forest floor will buy us some time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DORNIN: Well, on Saturday and Sunday, there is supposed to be some showers here, but there's still a controversy over just how much. Some forecasters, including CNN, are saying that there will be minor precipitation, maybe a half-inch. Others here are saying that there will be significant precipitation. Nobody is saying this rain is going to put the fire out, but every little bit helps to dampen the advance of these fires.

Rusty Dornin, CNN, Hamilton, Montana.

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