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Montana officials began accepting unemployment insurance applications today (Sept. 5) from campground owners and other self-employed people who were shut down by the forest fires that ravaged the state.

The special program kicked in when President Clinton declared Montana a disaster area on Aug. 30.

Benefits will range from $92 to $263 a week, depending on 1999 income.

“The benefits are payable to individuals who don’t usually qualify for unemployment — business owners, farmers, ranchers, outfitters, river float tour operators, etc.,” said Don Gilbert, Montana’s disaster unemployment assistance coordinator. “They must be unemployed or unable to perform their employment as a direct result of the disaster.”

Gilbert estimated that 3,000 to 4,000 people would get benefits under the program, which could be paid until early March.

Benefits are available, Gilbert said, while fire repairs are in progress.

“If a campground owner is closed and solely engaged in repairing fire damage, we would continue to pay,” Gilbert said. “Once he starts getting customers on site, that’s when we would start looking to see if we would continue to pay benefits or not.”