A summer of smoke and ashes


Marines and Army soldiers joined the tens of thousands of firefighters at work in Western states this summer. On Aug. 16, the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise declared a maximum Level 5 Emergency, which authorizes the use of military personnel.

The additional firefighters were needed to combat the most intense fire season since 1969. Already, more than 5 million acres have burned nationwide, exceeding the summer of 1988 when much of Yellowstone National Park burned. Wildfires have consumed more than 600 homes, and federal, state and local agencies have spent $300 million trying to put the flames out.

"We've had a combination of a wet winter and spring, and a tremendous drying trend that started in July coupled with lots of recent lightning activity," Don Smurthwaite of the National Interagency Fire Center told AP. "You couldn't write a prescription for a worse fire situation."

Some of the hot spots:

* About 1,000 tourists were forced to leave Mesa Verde National Park on Aug. 17 when a lightning-caused fire burned right up to the visitor center and lodge. The park remained closed for the next 11 days as crews fought the 5,000-acre blaze.

* On the Warm Springs Reservation in northern Oregon, the Simnasho Fire scorched 120,000 acres, one-sixth of the tribe's land. Ten homes were destroyed, but no one injured. The fire follows heavy flooding on the reservation last spring.

* Jared Farmer

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