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Some Progress Being Made Against US Wildfires - 2001-08-23

Evacuations remain in effect in some California communities as fires continue to threaten homes near Yosemite National Park. Six major fires are burning in California, and more than 24 wilderness blazes are raging in other Western states.

Rob Kopack of the National Interagency Fire Center says firefighters are making progress in some places. They have extinguished four Western fires since Wednesday, bringing down the number of wildland blazes to 28. Cool weather and light rainfall have helped the effort in Washington State and Oregon, but California remains a national hot spot.

Mr. Kopack said fires have forced hundreds of Californians from their homes, "There are six major fires that we've been tracking in California, and they have different states of evacuation, depending on the community." He said in Yosemite Village, firefighters are battling blazes that are uncomfortably close to houses.

"There are some that are just right in the backyard, where they come and position engines at houses in case it's going to go there, and look at cutting lines and protecting those places," he noted.

A fire near the town of Coulterville, California, is well on its way to containment, but fires in other parts of the state are spreading.

Mr. Kopack says various methods are used to battle wildland blazes. Firefighters cut "lines" or "breaks" in the underbrush using a hand-tool called a "pulaski." This traditional firefighting tool is a combination ax and hoe.

Other tools also make up the firefighting arsenal. "Axes, shovels, rakes, chain-saws, clearing the line," he said. "Other places, where the terrain is reasonable, you get the bulldozers in and then clear a line much more rapidly that way."

Fire Center official Rob Kopack says that under certain conditions, a firefighting supervisor will use fire to fight fire. "After a line is cut, a fire may be blowing towards you. He'll go ahead and light that line with a torch, set a back-fire. It will creep toward the other fire. The two flames will meet and then they'll go out, so it's fighting fire with fire."

Firefighters also attack from the air, using helicopters and C-130 air tankers to drop flame-retardant chemicals.

More than 2,600 firefighters are battling the wild-land blazes. The effort is likely to continue until October, when cool, wet weather typically brings an end to the Western wildfire season.