DENVER — Air Force tanker planes returned to the flight line for firefighting missions on Tuesday after a deadly weekend crash, bringing much-needed reinforcements to a strained fleet battling some of the worst wildfires in decades.

The return of five C-130s means wildfire managers now have 19 heavy tankers to battle the huge fires that have burned hundreds of square miles and displaced thousands of people across the West.

One wildfire in Montana has charred 320 square miles and burned 16 homes. The fire was 55 percent contained.

The most active part of the fire was burning thick, largely inaccessible timber on the Custer National Forest. That has led firefighters to steer clear of the dangerous forward edge of the blaze, fire information officer Kathy Bushnell said.

In Wyoming, erratic winds have spread a wildfire across 137 square miles in a sparsely populated area north of Laramie since it started June 27. It was 25 percent contained Tuesday.

"We've had this fire push north, push south, push east and push west at various times," fire information spokesman Jim Whittington said.

The Air Force had sidelined its seven remaining firefighting C-130s to review safety procedures after a C-130 from the North Carolina National Guard crashed Sunday, killing four crew members and injuring the other two.

The plane was helping fight a wildfire in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

The cause of the crash is under investigation.

The National Guard identified the dead as Lt. Col. Paul K. Mikeal, 42, and Maj. Joseph M. McCormick, 36, both pilots; Maj. Ryan S. David, 35, a navigator; and Senior Master Sgt. Robert S. Cannon, 50, a flight engineer. All were from North Carolina and were assigned to the 145th Airlift Wing.

The injured crew members' names and conditions were not released.

Five of the remaining C-130s were ready to fly firefighting sorties from Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs on Tuesday. A sixth was expected to be available on Wednesday. None had been sent on any missions by Tuesday afternoon.

The seventh, which was also assigned to the North Carolina Air National Guard, returned to its home base in Charlotte.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Forest Service hoped to add three "next generation tankers" – British-made BAe-146 aircraft – to its fleet of fire-suppressing aircraft by August, with another four similar aircraft due to be available by the summer of 2013, said spokeswoman Jennifer Jones in Boise.

The decision to suspend the Air Force's C-130 flights left just 14 federally contracted heavy tankers in use during one of the most destructive wildfire seasons to hit the West.

The National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, which coordinates wildfire-fighting efforts nationwide, said 45 large fires were burning Tuesday, including 36 fires in nine Western states. In Colorado alone, three fires have destroyed more than 600 homes and killed six residents.

The C-130s can be called into firefighting duty if all the civilian heavy tankers are in use or unavailable. The C-130s are loaded with a system of pressurized tanks and pumps that can drop 3,000 gallons of water or fire retardant within seconds.

Sunday's crash was the first for an Air Force C-130 on firefighting duty since the program started in the 1970s, said Jennifer Jones, a spokeswoman for national fire center.

A privately owned civilian version of an older C-130 crashed in California in 2002, killing three crew members. The crash helped prompt a review of large U.S. air tankers and led ultimately to a greatly reduced fleet of civilian planes.

Another firefighting plane, the Lockheed P2V, has had problems in recent months. One crashed in Utah, killing the two pilots, and another crash-landed in Nevada. Neither crash grounded the other eight P2Vs in the fleet.

Experts have warned for years that a safety concern that grounded a single model of plane could keep a large number of tankers from flying, said Bill Gabbert, a veteran firefighter and author of the Wildfire Today blog.

"When you put all your eggs in one basket, you ground 90 percent of those eggs, you can have a problem," Gabbert said.

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, whose department includes the U.S. Forest Service, said heavy tankers are only part of the firefighting air force.

"It's not just about tankers. It's about helicopters, fixed-wing aircraft, a combination of assets," Vilsack said during a visit to the Idaho fire center Tuesday.

___

Associated Press writers Mead Gruver and Ben Neary in Cheyenne, Wyo., Matthew Brown in Billings, Mont., Michael Biesecker in Raleigh, N.C., and John Miller in Boise, Idaho, contributed to this report.

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  • Major Wildfire Forces Evacuation Of Over 30,000 Near Colorado Springs

    COLORADO SPRINGS, CO - JUNE 30: Homes destroyed by the Waldo Canyon fire are seen from the air in a neighborhood on June 30, 2012 in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The massive fire, which has eased with the help of cooler temperatures and lighter winds, has destroyed hundreds of homes and forced more than 35,000 people to flee. The fire was estimated at 17,073 acres and was 25 precent contained with some evacuees being let back into their neighborhoods. A second body has been located in a burned home while others are still reported missing. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

  • Major Wildfire Forces Evacuation Of Over 30,000 Near Colorado Springs

    COLORADO SPRINGS, CO - JUNE 30: A burned truck is viewed in a neighborhood affected by the Waldo Canyon fire on June 30, 2012 in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The massive fire, which has eased with the help of cooler temperatures and lighter winds, has destroyed hundreds of homes and forced more than 35,000 people to flee. The fire was estimated at 17,073 acres and was 25 precent contained with some evacuees being let back into their neighborhoods. A second body has been located in a burned home while others are still reported missing. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

  • Major Wildfire Forces Evacuation Of Over 30,000 Near Colorado Springs

    COLORADO SPRINGS, CO - JUNE 30: Homes and cars destroyed by the Waldo Canyon fire are seen from the air in a neighborhood on June 30, 2012 in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The massive fire, which has eased with the help of cooler temperatures and lighter winds, has destroyed hundreds of homes and forced more than 35,000 people to flee. The fire was estimated at 17,073 acres and was 25 precent contained with some evacuees being let back into their neighborhoods. A second body has been located in a burned home while others are still reported missing. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

  • Major Wildfire Forces Evacuation Of Over 30,000 Near Colorado Springs

    COLORADO SPRINGS, CO - JUNE 30: Homes destroyed by the Waldo Canyon fire are seen from the air in a neighborhood on June 30, 2012 in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The massive fire, which has eased with the help of cooler temperatures and lighter winds, has destroyed hundreds of homes and forced more than 35,000 people to flee. The fire was estimated at 17,073 acres and was 25 precent contained with some evacuees being let back into their neighborhoods. A second body has been located in a burned home while others are still reported missing. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

  • Major Wildfire Forces Evacuation Of Over 30,000 Near Colorado Springs

    COLORADO SPRINGS, CO - JUNE 30: Homes destroyed by the Waldo Canyon fire are seen from the air in a neighborhood on June 30, 2012 in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The massive fire, which has eased with the help of cooler temperatures and lighter winds, has destroyed hundreds of homes and forced more than 35,000 people to flee. The fire was estimated at 17,073 acres and was 25 precent contained with some evacuees being let back into their neighborhoods. A second body has been located in a burned home while others are still reported missing. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

  • Major Wildfire Forces Evacuation Of Over 30,000 Near Colorado Springs

    COLORADO SPRINGS, CO - JUNE 30: A man stands near homes destroyed by the Waldo Canyon fire are seen from the air in a neighborhood on June 30, 2012 in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The massive fire, which has eased with the help of cooler temperatures and lighter winds, has destroyed hundreds of homes and forced more than 35,000 people to flee. The fire was estimated at 17,073 acres and was 25 precent contained with some evacuees being let back into their neighborhoods. A second body has been located in a burned home while others are still reported missing. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

  • Major Wildfire Forces Evacuation Of Over 30,000 Near Colorado Springs

    COLORADO SPRINGS, CO - JUNE 30: Destroyed homes sit beside a home left untouched by fire in a neighborhood affected by the Waldo Canyon fire on June 30, 2012 in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The massive fire, which has eased with the help of cooler temperatures and lighter winds, has destroyed hundreds of homes and forced more than 35,000 people to flee. The fire was estimated at 17,073 acres and was 25 precent contained with some evacuees being let back into their neighborhoods. A second body has been located in a burned home while others are still reported missing. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

  • Major Wildfire Forces Evacuation Of Over 30,000 Near Colorado Springs

    COLORADO SPRINGS, CO - JUNE 30: Destroyed homes sit beside home left untouched by fire in a neighborhood affected by the Waldo Canyon fire on June 30, 2012 in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The massive fire, which has eased with the help of cooler temperatures and lighter winds, has destroyed hundreds of homes and forced more than 35,000 people to flee. The fire was estimated at 17,073 acres and was 25 precent contained with some evacuees being let back into their neighborhoods. A second body has been located in a burned home while others are still reported missing. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

  • Major Wildfire Forces Evacuation Of Over 30,000 Near Colorado Springs

    COLORADO SPRINGS, CO - JUNE 30: Destroyed homes sit beside home left untouched by fire in a neighborhood affected by the Waldo Canyon fire on June 30, 2012 in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The massive fire, which has eased with the help of cooler temperatures and lighter winds, has destroyed hundreds of homes and forced more than 35,000 people to flee. The fire was estimated at 17,073 acres and was 25 precent contained with some evacuees being let back into their neighborhoods. A second body has been located in a burned home while others are still reported missing. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

  • Major Wildfire Forces Evacuation Of Over 30,000 Near Colorado Springs

    COLORADO SPRINGS, CO - JUNE 30: Destroyed homes sit beside home left untouched by fire in a neighborhood affected by the Waldo Canyon fire on June 30, 2012 in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The massive fire, which has eased with the help of cooler temperatures and lighter winds, has destroyed hundreds of homes and forced more than 35,000 people to flee. The fire was estimated at 17,073 acres and was 25 precent contained with some evacuees being let back into their neighborhoods. A second body has been located in a burned home while others are still reported missing. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

  • Major Wildfire Forces Evacuation Of Over 30,000 Near Colorado Springs

    COLORADO SPRINGS, CO - JUNE 30: A destroyed home is viewed in a neighborhood affected by the Waldo Canyon fire on June 30, 2012 in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The massive fire, which has eased with the help of cooler temperatures and lighter winds, has destroyed hundreds of homes and forced more than 35,000 people to flee. The fire was estimated at 17,073 acres and was 25 precent contained with some evacuees being let back into their neighborhoods. A second body has been located in a burned home while others are still reported missing. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

  • Major Wildfire Forces Evacuation Of Over 30,000 Near Colorado Springs

    COLORADO SPRINGS, CO - JUNE 30: A burned truck is viewed in a neighborhood affected by the Waldo Canyon fire on June 30, 2012 in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The massive fire, which has eased with the help of cooler temperatures and lighter winds, has destroyed hundreds of homes and forced more than 35,000 people to flee. The fire was estimated at 17,073 acres and was 25 precent contained with some evacuees being let back into their neighborhoods. A second body has been located in a burned home while others are still reported missing. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

  • WALDO CANYON FIRE

    President Barack Obama talks with firefighters as he tours the Mountain Shadow neighborhood devastated by wildfires, Friday, June 29, 2012, in, Colorado Springs, Colo. (AP Photo/The Colorado Springs Gazette, Mark Reis)

  • Major Wildfire Forces Evacuation Of Over 30,000 Near Colorado Springs

    COLORADO SPRINGS, CO - JUNE 30: Cars pass an area affected by the Waldo Canyon fire on June 30, 2012 in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The massive fire, which has eased with the help of cooler temperatures and lighter winds, has destroyed hundreds of homes and forced more than 35,000 people to flee. The fire was estimated at 17,073 acres and was 25 precent contained with some evacuees being let back into their neighborhoods. A second body has been located in a burned home while others are still reported missing. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

  • WALDO CANYON FIRE

    President Barack Obama and Congressman Doug Lamborn survey damage from The Waldo Canyon Fire along Majestic Drive, Friday, June 29, 2012, in, Colorado Springs, Colo. (AP Photo/The Colorado Springs Gazette, Mark Reis)

  • Major Wildfire Forces Evacuation Of Over 30,000 Near Colorado Springs

    COLORADO SPRINGS, CO - JUNE 30: Smoke billows at sunrise from part of the Waldo Canyon fire on June 30, 2012 in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The massive fire, which has eased with the help of cooler temperatures and lighter winds, has destroyed hundreds of homes and forced more than 35,000 people to flee. The fire was estimated at 17,073 acres and was 25 precent contained with some evacuees being let back into their neighborhoods. A second body has been located in a burned home while others are still reported missing. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

  • Barack Obama

    Secret Service watch from a tower as President Barack Obama aboard Air Force One leaves the airport in Colorado Springs, Colo., on Friday, June 29, 2012, after surveying damage from the Waldo Canyon wildfire and thanking first responders. The fire destroyed nearly 350 homes and killed one person. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

  • Major Wildfire Forces Evacuation Of Over 30,000 Near Colorado Springs

    COLORADO SPRINGS, CO - JUNE 30: Smoke billows at sunrise from part of the Waldo Canyon fire on June 30, 2012 in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The massive fire, which has eased with the help of cooler temperatures and lighter winds, has destroyed hundreds of homes and forced more than 35,000 people to flee. The fire was estimated at 17,073 acres and was 25 precent contained with some evacuees being let back into their neighborhoods. A second body has been located in a burned home while others are still reported missing. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

  • Barack Obama

    President Barack Obama waves as he boards Air Force One in Colorado Springs, Colo., on Friday, June 29, 2012, after surveying damage from the Waldo Canyon wildfire and thanking first responders. The fire destroyed nearly 350 homes and killed one person. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

  • Members of Bighorn 209, a hand crew from the Crow Agency in Montana check for hot spots on the Waldo Canyon Fire west of Colorado Springs, Colo., Friday, June 29, 2012. After declaring a "major disaster" in the state early Friday and promising federal aid, President Barack Obama got a firsthand view of the wildfires and their toll on residential communities. More than 30,000 people have been evacuated in what is now the most destructive wildfire in state history. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

  • Members of Bighorn 209, a hand crew from the Crow Agency in Montana check for hot spots on the Waldo Canyon Fire west of Colorado Springs, Colo., Friday, June 29, 2012. After declaring a "major disaster" in the state early Friday and promising federal aid, President Barack Obama got a firsthand view of the wildfires and their toll on residential communities. More than 30,000 people have been evacuated in what is now the most destructive wildfire in state history. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

  • Members of Bighorn 209, a hand crew from the Crow Agency in Montana check for hot spots from the Waldo Canyon Fire west of Colorado Springs, Colo., Friday, June 29, 2012. After declaring a "major disaster" in the state early Friday and promising federal aid, President Barack Obama got a firsthand view of the wildfires and their toll on residential communities. More than 30,000 people have been evacuated in what is now the most destructive wildfire in state history. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

  • Members of Bighorn 209, a hand crew from the Crow Agency in Montana check for hot spots on the Waldo Canyon Fire west of Colorado Springs, Colo., Friday, June 29, 2012. After declaring a "major disaster" in the state early Friday and promising federal aid, President Barack Obama got a firsthand view of the wildfires and their toll on residential communities. More than 30,000 people have been evacuated in what is now the most destructive wildfire in state history. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

  • Members of Bighorn 209, a hand crew from the Crow Agency in Montana check for hot spots on the Waldo Canyon Fire west of Colorado Springs, Colo., Friday, June 29, 2012. After declaring a "major disaster" in the state early Friday and promising federal aid, President Barack Obama got a firsthand view of the wildfires and their toll on residential communities. More than 30,000 people have been evacuated in what is now the most destructive wildfire in state history. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

  • This infrared image provided by DigitalGlobe shows an aerial view of the Waldo Canyon Fire, June 28, 2012 in Colorado. The bright red areas denote healthy vegetation. This raging Colorado wildfire destroyed an estimated 346 homes this week, making it the most destructive fire in the state's history, officials said Friday June 29, 2012. (AP Photo/DigitalGlobe)

  • Firefighters from Colorado Springs Fire Dept. gather after coming off the fire on the the Waldo Canyon wildfire west of Colorado Springs, Colo., Friday, June 29, 2012. One person has been found dead, another is missing and nearly 350 homes have been destroyed by a raging U.S. wildfire that has forced tens of thousands to flee this week. President Barack Obama on Friday will tour the scene of the most destructive fire in Colorado history. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

  • WALDO CANYON FIRE

    President Barack Obama talks with firefighters as he tours the Mountain Shadow neighborhood devastated by wildfires, Friday, June 29, 2012, in, Colorado Springs, Colo. (AP Photo/The Colorado Springs Gazette, Mark Reis)

  • Several firefighters from Colorado Springs Fire Dept. get massages after coming off the fire line on the the Waldo Canyon wildfire west of Colorado Springs, Colo., Friday, June 29, 2012. One person has been found dead, another is missing and nearly 350 homes have been destroyed by a raging U.S. wildfire that has forced tens of thousands to flee this week. President Barack Obama on Friday will tour the scene of the most destructive fire in Colorado history. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

  • A firefighters from Aurora Fire Dept. refuels after coming off the fire on the the Waldo Canyon wildfire west of Colorado Springs, Colo., Friday, June 29, 2012. One person has been found dead, another is missing and nearly 350 homes have been destroyed by a raging U.S. wildfire that has forced tens of thousands to flee this week. President Barack Obama on Friday will tour the scene of the most destructive fire in Colorado history. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

  • This aerial photo shows the destructive path of the Waldo Canyon fire in the Mountain Shadows subdivision area of Colorado Springs, Colo., Thursday, June 28, 2012. Colorado Springs officials said Thursday that hundreds of homes have been destroyed by the raging wildfire. (AP Photo/Denver Post, RJ Sangosti)

  • This aerial photo shows the destructive path of the Waldo Canyon fire in the Mountain Shadows subdivision area of Colorado Springs, Colo., Thursday, June 28, 2012. Colorado Springs officials said Thursday that hundreds of homes have been destroyed by the raging wildfire. (AP Photo/Denver Post, RJ Sangosti)

  • This aerial photo shows the destructive path of the Waldo Canyon fire in the Mountain Shadows subdivision area of Colorado Springs, Colo., Thursday, June 28, 2012. Colorado Springs officials said Thursday that hundreds of homes have been destroyed by the raging wildfire. (AP Photo/Denver Post, RJ Sangosti)

  • This aerial photo shows the destructive path of the Waldo Canyon fire in the Mountain Shadows subdivision area of Colorado Springs, Colo., Thursday, June 28, 2012. Colorado Springs officials said Thursday that hundreds of homes have been destroyed by the raging wildfire. (AP Photo/Denver Post, RJ Sangosti)

  • forsale

    In this aerial photo, the charred lots of homes burned to the ground by the Waldo Canyon fire line the streets of the Mountain Shadows subdivision area of Colorado Springs, Colo., Thursday, June 28, 2012. Colorado Springs officials said Thursday that hundreds of homes have been destroyed by the raging wildfire. (AP Photo/Denver Post, RJ Sangosti)

  • This aerial photo shows the destructive path of the Waldo Canyon fire in the Mountain Shadows subdivision area of Colorado Springs, Colo., Thursday, June 28, 2012. Colorado Springs officials said Thursday that hundreds of homes have been destroyed by the raging wildfire. (AP Photo/Denver Post, RJ Sangosti)

  • This aerial photo shows the destructive path of the Waldo Canyon fire in the Mountain Shadows subdivision area of Colorado Springs, Colo., Thursday, June 28, 2012. Colorado Springs officials said Thursday that hundreds of homes have been destroyed by the raging wildfire. (AP Photo/Denver Post, RJ Sangosti)

  • This aerial photo shows the destructive path of the Waldo Canyon fire in the Mountain Shadows subdivision area of Colorado Springs, Colo., Thursday, June 28, 2012. Colorado Springs officials said Thursday that hundreds of homes have been destroyed by the raging wildfire. (AP Photo/Denver Post, RJ Sangosti)

  • This aerial photo shows the destructive path of the Waldo Canyon fire in the Mountain Shadows subdivision area of Colorado Springs, Colo., Thursday, June 28, 2012. Colorado Springs officials said Thursday that hundreds of homes have been destroyed by the raging wildfire. (AP Photo/Denver Post, RJ Sangosti)

  • This aerial photo shows the destructive path of the Waldo Canyon fire in the Mountain Shadows subdivision area of Colorado Springs, Colo., Thursday, June 28, 2012. Colorado Springs officials said Thursday that hundreds of homes have been destroyed by the raging wildfire. (AP Photo/Denver Post, RJ Sangosti)

  • This aerial photo shows the destructive path of the Waldo Canyon fire in the Mountain Shadows subdivision area of Colorado Springs, Colo., Thursday, June 28, 2012. Colorado Springs officials said Thursday that hundreds of homes have been destroyed by the raging wildfire. (AP Photo/Denver Post, RJ Sangosti)

  • This aerial photo shows the destructive path of the Waldo Canyon fire in the Mountain Shadows subdivision area of Colorado Springs, Colo., Thursday, June 28, 2012. Colorado Springs officials said Thursday that hundreds of homes have been destroyed by the raging wildfire. (AP Photo/Denver Post, RJ Sangosti)

  • This aerial photo shows the destructive path of the Waldo Canyon fire in the Mountain Shadows subdivision area of Colorado Springs, Colo., Thursday, June 28, 2012. Colorado Springs officials said Thursday that hundreds of homes have been destroyed by the raging wildfire. (AP Photo/Denver Post, RJ Sangosti)

  • The sun sets on the front range where the Waldo Canyon Fire continues to burn Wednesday, June 27, 2012, in Colorado Springs, Colo. The wildfire doubled in size overnight to about 24 square miles (62 square kilometers), and has so far forced mandatory evacuations for more than 32,000 residents. (AP Photo/Bryan Oller)

  • This aerial photo shows the destructive path of the Waldo Canyon fire in the Mountain Shadows subdivision area of Colorado Springs, Colo., Thursday, June 28, 2012. Colorado Springs officials said Thursday that hundreds of homes have been destroyed by the raging wildfire. (AP Photo/Denver Post, RJ Sangosti)

  • Some homes are left scorched by The Waldo Canyon Fire, while others survived, in the Mountain Shadows area of Colorado Springs, Colo., Wednesday, June 27, 2012. The wildfire doubled in size overnight to about 24 square miles (62 square kilometers), and has so far forced mandatory evacuations for more than 32,000 residents. (AP Photo/The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

  • This aerial photo shows the destructive path of the Waldo Canyon fire in the Mountain Shadows subdivision area of Colorado Springs, Colo., Thursday, June 28, 2012. Colorado Springs officials said Thursday that hundreds of homes have been destroyed by the raging wildfire. (AP Photo/Denver Post, RJ Sangosti)

  • A helicopter drops water as the Waldo Canyon Fire burns Wednesday, June 27, 2012, in Colorado Springs, Colo. The wildfire doubled in size overnight to about 24 square miles (62 square kilometers), and has so far forced mandatory evacuations for more than 32,000 residents. (AP Photo/The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

  • Small fires smolder in the Mountain Shadows area as the Waldo Canyon Fire burns on Wednesday, June 27, 2012, in Colorado Springs, Colo. The wildfire doubled in size overnight to about 24 square miles (62 square kilometers), and has so far forced mandatory evacuations for more than 32,000 residents. (AP Photo/The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

  • A helicopter flies past the charred mountainside above Queens Canyon as the Waldo Canyon Fire burns Wednesday, June 27, 2012, in Colorado Springs, Colo. The wildfire doubled in size overnight to about 24 square miles (62 square kilometers), and has so far forced mandatory evacuations for more than 32,000 residents. (AP Photo/The Gazette, Jerilee Bennett)

AP NATIONAL WILDFIRE TRACKER: