Saturday, March 05, 2005

Montana Governor, anticipating wildfires,wants Guard troops back - Mar 4, 2005

HELENA, Montana (AP) -- Montana is at such high risk for a wildfire "blowup" this summer that Gov. Brian Schweitzer wants at least some of the 1,500 National Guard soldiers in Iraq and elsewhere to return home for the wildfire season.

The governor warned Friday the state is like a powder keg because of persistent drought, a shortage of mountain snow and forests full of dry timber.

"I know it's going to be a bad fire year," he said, adding he anticipates a repeat of the 1988 season when 4,122 fires charred 2.2 million acres in the Northern Rockies, including about 793,000 acres in Yellowstone National Park.

"Somebody's going to have a blowup," Schweitzer said in an interview. "Is it northern Idaho, is it eastern Washington or is it Montana?"

The governor has asked the Pentagon to return some of the Montana National Guard troops and aircraft called to active duty. He also plans to ask leaders in Idaho, Washington, Saskatchewan and Alberta to commit manpower and machines to fight the anticipated wildfires.

Montana Guard spokesman Maj. Scott Smith said about 2,000 soldiers, often called on to supplement fire crews each summer, remain in the state.

But 10 of the state's 12 UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters, each capable of carrying a 600-gallon water bucket or 11 firefighters, are not back from Iraq, he said.

The Guard has three larger CH-47 Chinook helicopters able to haul 2,000 gallons of water apiece, but lacks enough flight engineers to operate them all, Smith said.

Smith said he was not sure whether Guard members would be returned to the state at Schweitzer's request; a federal mission typically takes precedence over state authority, he noted. - Governor wants Guard troops back

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President George W. Bush's statement in March 2006 after 3 yrs of war "a future President will have to resolve war in Iraq"


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