Montana Guard Troops to Begin Firefighter Training

HELENA (AP) -- An order Gov. Brian Schweitzer issued Thursday allows National Guard troops to begin training this weekend to fight fires.

''We will pray for rain and prepare for the worst,'' Schweitzer said.

The Department of Natural Resources requested the activation after determining that ''current and projected fuel and weather conditions indicate strong potential for significant wildfire activity to occur in Montana within the next 60 days.''

The first phase of activation will involve training Guard helicopter crews this weekend in conjunction with their regular monthly training.

Under federal regulations, the Guard helicopters will only be deployed if comparable resources aren't available from local, state and commercial sources.

Meanwhile, a 300-acre fire near Philipsburg was 75 percent contained Thursday morning and fire crews in western Montana were quickly responding to small, lightning-caused fires.

Firefighters continued to mop up hot spots and work toward containment of the lightning-caused Frog Pond fire, burning 25 miles southwest of Philipsburg.

''This is a blue-collar operation,'' incident commander Dave Larsen told crews Thursday morning. ''There is still lots of work to be done finding spots and working on them -- nothing glamorous about it.''

Four 20-member crews were being sent home from the fire Thursday, officials said. It has cost approximately $1.5 million to fight the fire in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest.

In western Montana, firefighters were kept busy with small, lightning-caused fires.

There were 18 new fires in the Lolo National Forest, most of them in Mineral County, and all are relatively small, said Sharon Sweeney, public information officer.

''It sounds like we have a lot going on right now,'' she said, ''but it's actually pretty quiet.''

To the south, fire crews were kept busy tracking down new fire starts and small fires that began Monday, said Dixie Dies, public affairs officer for the Bitterroot National Forest.