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More U.S. troops headed for western wildfires

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DENVER — Federal officials Saturday ordered a third battalion of U.S. troops to reinforce fire crews battling dozens of large blazes across the western United States in what was turning into one of the worst seasons in decades.

"The west is just so dry. This is from years and years of really dry weather," said Mary Apple of the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho.

"And the information we're getting from the weather folks is that it's going to be like this for the next two or possibly three months," added Bob Valen, another fire information officer at the center.

"We have ordered a third battalion from Fort Hood (an Army base in Texas) and they will probably be sent to western Montana," Apple said.

In addition, a battalion of 500 Marines from Camp Pendleton in California arrived in Idaho Falls, Idaho Saturday to begin two days of training.

So far this year 3.9 million acres have burned in 62,944 blazes, nearly twice as bad as normal.

The early 1950s were horrendous for fires, with 14 million acres burned in 1952 and more than 17 million acres in 1950.

In Colorado, officials closed the Mesa Verde National Park indefinitely and evacuated employees after a fire broke out on the Ute Mountain Reservation that borders the famed park.

The park, home to the largest archeological site in North America, had just reopened Friday after being closed for two weeks due to another fire. Because of the unpredictable nature of the latest blaze, fire officials were taking no chances.

Crews arriving from Canada, Mexico

About eight crews from Canada were expected to be dispatched to Montana, while Mexico has sent one crew to Arizona.

Throughout the western United States, 747,101 acres were burning in 62 blazes in 11 states. But crews were making some headway.

"The fires grew, but they got a bunch contained. Overall we held our own yesterday," Apple said. Seventy large fires were burning Friday, but crews made progress in Nevada.

But more trouble could be ahead. Forecasts of thunderstorms for the weekend in Oregon and Washington meant that more lighting strikes could spark new fires, Apple said.

Wildfires were reported in Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.

Earlier in the week a battalion of 500 troops arrived from Fort Hood and Friday completed their field training at the Burgdorf Junction Fire in Idaho.

Sixteen fires were reported in Montana, where some towns were evacuated in the western part of the state, Apple said.

"It's a lot of vacation homes. That's one of the problems. The West is growing in population—it's the rural-urban interface where the woods meet the town," Apple said.