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Drought Plagues Northeast

In response to the drought plaguing eastern and Middle Atlantic states, the Clinton Administration Tuesday declared all of New Jersey and 34 counties in New York as farm disaster areas in response to the drought that is plaguing growers in those states.

"The farm crisis continues to present a daunting challenge to America's farmers, now being hit hard by a severe drought in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast," President Clinton said in a statement. "We are responding to this drought with urgency and immediate assistance."

Crops have withered in the fields, with corn reaching half their height, while livestock have been stressed by the heat and lack of forage. For many states, this is the third year of drought.

Meanwhile, a difficult drought-fueled brushfire continues to burn in a relatively small area near the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, reports CBS News Correspondent Lee Cowan.

Fire has charred close to 1,000 parched, wooded acres around the historic facility - half of them littered with buried artillery.

"This is probably one of the worst case scenarios," said Ken Hetrick, West Point's fire chief. "It's just about everything you can think of dangerous that's thrown into it."

At least 30 shells have already exploded - a surprise that forced firefighters to make a quick retreat, giving the fire a chance to get the upper hand.

Even fighting the blaze from the air is risky.

"We're flying our helicopters over 800 feet above where the terrain is," said Ed Jacoby, director of the New York Emergency Management Office. At that height, an exploding shell won't down a helicopter.

The mountain has been a target since the war of 1812. It was used by West Point cadets as an artillery practice range until being closed more than 50 years ago. Most of the terrain was never mapped, and as such, no one knows exactly how many shells there are, or where they're buried.

Tor the first time Tuesday, explosives experts were called in to help. They must find hidden duds before fire fighters accidentally detonate them.

By late afternoon, the sappers had found at least one safe path to do battle with the fire. Bulldozers were moved in to plow a short fire line -- one way of keeping the flames from creeping into surrounding neighborhoods, now just miles away.

Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey and Rhode Island are parched by the worst drought on record, officials said last week. Meanwhile, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts and West Virginia had the second-lowest rainfall from April to July since the government started collecting data 105 years ago.

Tuesday's announcement is the second emergency declaration the administration has made this month. Last week, Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman declared all of West Virginia and 33 counties surrounding the state as farm emergency areas.

Other states have also requested emergency declarations, including Maryland, Virginia, Kentucky, MontanaOhio, Arizona and New Mexico. The declarations allow farmers to apply for low-interest loans.

The drought comes at the same time that farmers are receiving the lowest prices in a generation for many of their crops. Some farmers say that they will only seek loans as a last resort. They say paying that money back, no matter how low the interest rate is, seems more and more out of reach.

"Your back is against the wall, and a loan is not going to do it," said 39-year-old corn and soybean farmer Jim Czub of Schaghticoke, N.Y. Czub said 30 to 40 percent of the corn-on-ears on his farm are dead.

"The problem today is not only are we in drought, but those of us who do have something, it isn't worth anything," he said.

Forecasters have said there is little sign that the drought will ease before winter - when rainfall increases and temperatures drop, allowing moisture to soak into the soil.