.c The Associated Press

KAMLOOPS, British Columbia (AP) - Gusting winds from approaching thunderstorms Tuesday spread some wildfires in western Canada, where a provincial leader warned of a long battle to contain the blazes.

More than 300 fires burning in British Columbia and others in Alberta have forced the evacuation of 11,000 people. Army soldiers have joined the firefighters and volunteers digging break lines, dumping water and taking other measures to bring the blazes under control.

No deaths have been reported, but flames have torched dozens of homes and businesses in some British Columbia communities.

British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell visited the small community of Louis Creek and came back with a dismal report.

``There are virtually no structures left standing,'' Campbell told a news conference Tuesday. ``It's devastated. It's like the life has been sucked out of it.''

With thunderstorms forecast in the province, authorities worry the accompanying winds and lightning strikes will worsen the situation.

``We still haven't managed to contain even 50 percent of the fires we're dealing with,'' Campbell said. ``It's going to be a long time, a long-haul process.''

Any rainfall from the storms would be welcome in a region that has received 1 1/4 inches of precipitation in the past two months, creating the tinder-dry conditions that help the fires spread.

A major fire north of Kamloops, about 180 miles northeast of Vancouver, spread across another 7,400 acres overnight to increase the burned area to more than 27,000 acres, authorities said.

Other fires were under control, and authorities lifted evacuation orders involving several hundred people. However, they were preventing many people from returning to their homes because of the threat of further fire.

``The only thing I can tell you that makes this disaster different than the other ones we've ever dealt with is the volatility of it, the size of it and the explosiveness of it,'' said Rod Salem, regional manager of British Columbia's provincial emergency program.

08/06/03 08:19 EDT