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Western wildfires finally lose ground
HELENA, Montana (CNN) - Firefighters faced a smaller battlefield Sunday as the number of acres ablaze across the West declined slightly.
Even so, federal officials have promised to cut through red tape and get immediate financial relief for fire-ravaged Montana -- one of the worst-hit states.
On Sunday, the National Fire Information Center reported 76 large fires burning across 868,975 acres -- 54,560 acres less than a day earlier. Although firefighters were contending Sunday with seven additional fires, they took satisfaction in their accomplishment.
"We are making progress," said Ed Waldapfel, a spokesman for the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho.
Wildfires are burning in 13 states: Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, South Dakota, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, Colorado, Washington, Oregon and California.
'They need the money now'
Residents affected by the fire got a boost Saturday when James Lee Witt, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), toured burned areas in Montana. He vowed to local and state officials that he would expedite efforts to get federal funds to the state.
"They need the money now, and that's what we're going to do," Witt told CNN.
To estimate the costs of the ongoing firefighting effort, officials from the emergency management agency will hold a conference call Monday with state officials and those from federal park and forestry agencies, said Matthew Furman, a spokesman for the emergency management agency, during an interview with CNN.
Once the estimated cost is determined, Furman said a check will be issued within days for 50 percent of the figure; this will eliminate the need for a special session of the state legislature. In Montana alone, costs on the state, local and federal levels have surpassed $64 million.
In the 13 states now battling large fires, the costs are estimated at $15 million per day, noted Waldapfel of the National Interagency Fire Center.
"We just need to make sure that we can try to protect homes, and take care of families that have been affected," said Witt. "These people out here have gone through an awful ordeal."
Cooler weather helps firefighters
Meanwhile, cooler weather in Montana has allowed firefighters to make progress on two fires burning 12 to 15 miles south of Helena. Larry Akers of the Montana Division of Disaster and Emergency Services said a mandatory evacuation order had been lifted covering some 270 residents. Akers noted the evacuations had been ordered eight to 10 days ago.
An additional 500 soldiers from the 20th Engineer Battalion, First Cavalry Division at Fort Hood, Texas, have completed their initial training and will begin training on the fire lines Sunday in Montana.
South Dakota was added to the list of states battling wildfires. A 1,500 acre fire was burning on the rugged terrain of Flag Pole Mountain, near the city of Hot Springs in the state's southwestern corner.
Firefighter killed, another injured as U.S. forests continue to burn
National Interagency Fire Center
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