IN THE NEWS #441 - Western Forest Fires

By Nancy Steinbach

This is Steve Ember with the VOA Special English program IN THE NEWS.

Forest fires continue to burn in many areas of the western United States. Officials say they are the worst wildfires in fifty years. About seventy large fires are burning in twelve western states.

So far, the fires have destroyed about one-million-six-hundred-thousand hectares of land. This is almost two times the average amount of land destroyed in forest fires during the past ten years.

Forest fires begin every summer in the western United States. But a severe lack of rain and unusually high temperatures have made this fire season worse than usual. Experts say the hot dry conditions will continue through September. Fires could destroy much more land and property by the time rain or snow falls in the area.

Many of the fires this year are the results of natural electrical discharges called dry lightning hitting forests overgrown with trees and plants. A report released Thursday by federal officials said dry lightning and high winds could start more fires in the states of Wyoming, Idaho, Washington, Montana and Nevada.

Thirty-thousand civilian and military firefighters from forty-six states, Canada, Mexico, Australia and New Zealand are working to control the fires. President Clinton visited some of them Tuesday in the state of Idaho, one of the hardest hit areas. He expressed the nation's thanks for their efforts. He also ordered the Agriculture and Interior Departments to develop a plan to repair fire-damaged areas and reduce the fire danger throughout the West.

The highest number of fires are burning in the state of Montana. About twenty fires have destroyed one-hundred-twenty-thousand hectares. Fires have also destroyed buildings and forced hundreds of people to flee their homes. The Governor of Montana has banned more than two-million-four-hundred-thousand hectares of land from public use.

Firefighters in the state of Colorado are trying to stop fires from reaching historic ruins of ancient native American peoples at Mesa Verde National Park. Two large fires have threatened the area in less than a month.

Federal officials say these fires have revealed a major problem in western forest land policy. Officials say the land needs to be returned to its more natural fire-resistant conditions. They say the fires this year are a result of a government forest policy that was followed for one-hundred years.

That was a policy of fire suppression in the national forests. This created forests with unnaturally large amounts of woody material that burns easily. That policy has been changed recently. The new policy calls for more active thinning of trees and controlled burns to clean out the national forests.

This VOA Special English program IN THE NEWS, was written by Nancy Steinbach. I'm Steve Ember.

Voice of America Special English