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Twenty-Thousand More Evacuated in Western Canada

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  • Twenty-Thousand More Evacuated in Western Canada

    By Allan Dowd

    KELOWNA, British Columbia (Reuters) - Emergency officials ordered an additional 20,000 people to evacuate their homes in Kelowna, British Columbia, on Friday as a wildfire moved closer to the prosperous vacation city.

    The additional evacuation meant that 30,000 people, or nearly one-third of Kelowna's population, had been ordered from their homes, said Bruce Smith, a local emergency operations official.

    Massive flames could be seen near the western Canadian city, as the 42,000-acre (17,000-hectare) fire raged, casting an eerie orange glow into the sky.

    "I've lived here all my life, and I can't believe this," said Debbie Curylo, 44, who was watching the fires from a distance, saying they had spread to an area where her two sisters live.

    "It's all up to God now."

    Winds picked up late in the day, pushing the fire past containment lines that crews had struggled to build for several days. A similar situation happened on Thursday evening, prompting the first evacuations.

    A thick pall of smoke had hung over the city of 96,000 throughout Friday, shrouding the mountains. Blackened pine needles and bits of ash floated down like gray snow flurries.

    No deaths or injuries were reported, but 15 homes were damaged or destroyed by the flames. Witnesses told local media that they had seen additional homes being destroyed by the flames.


    Many of those who fled were told they had only minutes to leave by police who went from door to door as danger mounted.

    The fire outside Kelowna, in the Okanagan region about 185 miles (300 km) east of Vancouver, began on Aug. 16 with a lightning strike in the mountains.

    The region is home to Western Canada's wine industry, and the fire has forced the closure of at least one winery.

    Even before the evacuations in Kelowna, as many as 2,000 people in the southern interior of Canada's westernmost province were forced from their homes by several large forest fires.

    The mountainous area has had scant rainfall this summer, creating one of the most devastating fire seasons in decades.

    After viewing the blaze by air, British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell said it "seemed endless."

    Since April 1, more than 630 square miles (1,600 square km) of forest have burned in British Columbia, which has declared a state of emergency. More than 800 fires were burning across the province.

    Residents have been warned to stay out of forests and off wilderness roads and campsites in the southern half of the province, which is Canada's third largest and roughly the size of France and Germany combined.

    Dry conditions have forced most southern timber companies to withdraw logging crews, and workers will not be able to return until there is significant rain -- a factor that has driven lumber prices up on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.

    08/23/03 00:16 ET
    September 11th - Never Forget

    I respect firefighters and emergency workers worldwide. Thank you for what you do.

    Honorary Flatlander


  • #2
    People wander to B.C. evacuation centres in shock, describe walls of flames


    VANCOUVER (CP) - People are wandering into disaster relief centres in Kelowna and Kamloops in shock, describing what it's like to be trapped between two walls of fire, a case worker said Friday.

    Some have survived the B.C. blazes with only their lives and are now standing in line for food, clothing vouchers and sleeping on army cots.

    "The hardest thing for many is trying to figure out how to face their children, let alone the future," said Maureen Curtis, a counsellor with the Red Cross working in the Kamloops evacuation centre.

    British Columbians in the province's southern Interior have been reeling for almost a month from the impact of hundreds of wildfires.

    More than 12,500 people currently are out of their homes, mostly from suburban Kelowna. Up to 10,000 were evacuated earlier this month, fleeing fires north of Kamloops, one of which destroyed dozens of homes in the village of Louis Creek.

    Jerry Cody was evacuated from his Kelowna home on his 81st birthday, terrorized by a ball of fire heading towards the house he has lived in for 14 years.

    Even though Jerry and his wife, Rita, had three days notice that they may have to evacuate, they were so beside themselves when they finally had to flee, they forgot vital things like medication and prescription glasses.

    "Your mind just literally goes blank, absolutely blank," Rita, 75, said Friday.

    "We're seniors, we're older, we don't adapt very well to all this stress," she said. "This is the most frightening thing that we've ever experienced."

    Trauma is universal, Curtis said, and many B.C. fire evacuees are going through experiences and emotions similar to people in war zones.

    "In the face of a fire storm, where all hell breaks loose, people feel a real sense of panic," said Curtis, who has also worked in evacuation centres in Sri Lanka, Sudan and Angola, helping people fleeing war.

    "There may have been pandemonium. Sometimes there are only a few minutes of warning."

    She said the evacuees are too stressed to be able to think clearly, as is often the case in disaster zones.

    And it's not just evacuees who are in shock; residents living near evacuated homes are waiting, knowing that they could be the next to be turfed by the fire.

    "It's very surreal, it's like you're watching a movie," Sonja Gaiser said Friday as she dropped off donated dog and cat food at a Kelowna relief centre.

    "This was a piece of heaven until a week ago," said Gaiser as her eyes pooled with tears. "It's so sad."

    For some, it has been too much to sit in relief centres and think about what's happened, so they volunteer and go back to their towns to fight the blaze.

    "One of my clients who is volunteering, he lost everything. I had the opportunity to meet with him in his motel room," Curtis said, sitting in a small medical supplies room taking a break from the chaos in the centre.

    "He's working 10-12 hour shifts. He was talking about what it was like to be caught between two walls of flames."

    An inner courage often grows in people in extreme situations, blocking out the trauma, but that the fear and the pain will come crashing down eventually, she said.

    "In some ways it will haunt them. People who saw the fire jump creeks said it looked like an atomic bomb, saying 'you have no idea what it's like watch your community burn.' They will always have that," Curtis said.

    To help evacuees through the chaos, workers give people something to focus on, a step-by-step plan to get their lives back.

    Many have been sleeping either on cots in an evacuation centre or in motels for upwards of two weeks now. One family she is working with has been sleeping in a tent in a school yard.

    "We start with finding a place," said Curtis. "These people can't see beyond one step."

    They will focus at first on finding an apartment or a mobile home, and then cleaning the place and gathering things such as furniture and cutlery and plates from the Salvation Army and then moving in what possessions they might have.

    "I tell people they will feel really, really tired once that's done and to give themselves permission," she said. "Have a long hot bath, start to unwind, and that's when the feelings will start to come up."

    It catches up with even those who somehow laugh their way through the situation and seem to be able to find the bright side of anything. Curtis said they can only laugh for so long, before reality sets in.

    The emotions will be different for everyone, but she said that after working through the Salmon Arm, B.C., fire in 1998, she knows that victims will have nightmares. Some will suffer post traumatic stress disorder.

    "They have flashbacks," said Curtis. "Sometimes it comes up unexpectedly and can really broadside a person and we tell them nobody needs to go through this alone."

    She has now packed up and is going to pitch in at the evacuation centre in Kelowna, as it was being swamped by victims Friday.

    The Canadian Press, 2003

    08/22/2003 20:28 EST
    September 11th - Never Forget

    I respect firefighters and emergency workers worldwide. Thank you for what you do.

    Honorary Flatlander



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