.c The Associated Press

KAMLOOPS, British Columbia (AP) - Hundreds of forest fires burned Monday throughout western Canada, where authorities fear the worst wildfires in 50 years could worsen due to strong winds in the forecast.

A new fire at Maligne Lake, a popular tourist destination in Alberta's Rocky Mountains, prompted authorities to evacuate 500 visitors and staff. I've NEVER heard of Maligne Lake having to be evacuated before!!! This is in Jasper!! In British Columbia, 2,800 people evacuated from the southern towns of Rayleigh and Heffley Creek began returning home after the fire threat passed.

The fires in British Columbia and Alberta have destroyed dozens of buildings and forced 11,000 people to evacuate in mostly rural communities. No deaths have been reported.

Authorities said six fires in the Kamloops area of British Columbia, 180 miles northeast of Vancouver, have scorched nearly 88,000 acres over the past two weeks.

British Columbia officials urged curious outsiders to stop coming to see the damage.

``We have people running across the highway, cars parking in some places two deep already,'' Cpl. Mike Stewart of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police said. ``There's thousands of residents who have to go back to Heffley Creek and Rayleigh and we don't want any accidents.''

In southern Alberta, officials took advantage of overcast, cooler weather by sending workers with shovels and axes to dig fire lines around some blazes.

``It's a fluid operation and we are able to adjust on the fly,'' said Rick Strickland, a fire information officer in Blairmore, Alberta, about 30 miles north of Montana.

In Montana, authorities are fighting a half dozen major forest fires, including one nearly 25,000 acres about six miles south of the Canadian border.

British Columbia has declared a state of emergency to hasten federal help, with firefighters from neighboring Alberta and Ontario provinces joining soldiers to help battle about 350 fires.

Flames in nearby mountains can be seen at night from Kamloops, the city of 80,000.

About 3,500 people fled to Kamloops, and are staying in hotels, houses and the local hockey arena, officials said.

Officials also reported 80 forest fires in the prairie province of Saskatchewan and 14 fires in neighboring Manitoba, including a 98,000-acre one near Thompson in the remote north.

08/04/03 19:14 EDT