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Helicopter pilot killed battling Western wildfires
HELENA, Montana (CNN) -- A pilot was killed on Sunday when his helicopter crashed while making water drops on one of many wildfires raging in the western United States.
The firefighter, whose identity was not released, was battling a blaze in a remote area about 50 miles east of Fallon, Nevada, which had already consumed 37,700 acres.
The pilot was the eighth firefighter killed fighting wildfires this year, and the second killed in a helicopter crash this month in Nevada.
On Monday, the National Fire Information Center reported 82 large fires burning across 919,710 acres. Although firefighters contended Sunday with seven additional fires, they took satisfaction in their accomplishment.
'We are making progress'
"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.
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, FEMA officials 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.
The cost of battling large fires in 13 Western states is estimated at $15 million per day.
"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 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.
On Sunday, hundreds of evacuees were allowed back into their homes firefighters had saved in Montana's Elkhorn Mountains.
An additional 500 soldiers from the 20th Engineer Battalion, 1st 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.
A group of fires in Washington's Klickitat County was declared fully contained on Sunday after burning 9,000 acres.
Western wildfires finally lose ground
National Interagency Fire Center
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