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Winds fan flames near Kelowna, B.C., 3,200 people flee homes

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  • Winds fan flames near Kelowna, B.C., 3,200 people flee homes

    KELOWNA, B.C. (CP) - The Okanagan Mountain Park fire near Kelowna worsened late Wednesday as winds kicked up flames and forced 3,200 residents from several communities to flee their homes.

    "The fire is very active this evening," said B.C. Forest Service spokesman Kirk Hughes. He said the June Springs and Gallagher's Canyon residential areas are most affected and are located north and east of where the original fire was burning last week. "We are getting heavy equipment in place and we'll work through the night in areas where it's safe for us to do so to establish fire guards and fuel breaks to hopefully stop the advance of the fire down the hill," Hughes said.

    Karen Cairns, communications manager for the city of Kelowna, said 60 firefighters were battling the 210 square kilometre blaze.

    She estimated the fire was about five to 10 kilometres from some homes.

    Cairns said could see an orange glow on the hillside from the fire hall where she was standing several kilometres away.

    "I stepped outside the fire hall and I could see flames on one of the ridges."

    Officials watching for signs of flareups have expected more trouble in the area because of the extremely dry conditions this summer, Cairns said.

    "You wish it would rain."

    Some residents were forced to flee their homes for the second time after having to leave for several days about two weeks ago, Cairns said.

    Many of the evacuees checked in at a recreation centre in Kelowna and will be put up in hotels if necessary while others are staying with friends and relatives.

    Meanwhile, firefighters battling a raging wildfire southwest of Cranbrook were keeping the blaze from gaining new ground.

    "We haven't had any significant changes," fire information officer Shirley Pobran said Wednesday.

    Pobran said the Lamb Creek fire remained at 110 square kilometres as firefighters shored up fireguards and coated the landscape with fire retardant on another hot, dusty day in this city in southeast British Columbia.

    Pobran also dismissed criticism that fire officials may have underestimated the Lamb Creek fire's potential threat to Cranbrook by deeming it a low priority immediately after it started by a lightning strike Aug. 7.

    "It was not near any residences (at the time) and there were a lot of fires that were," she said. "We only have so many resources and if you can imagine having 800 fires in the province you do have to prioritize."

    Elsewhere in the province, firefighters were making progress on some of the other major fires that have threatened homes.

    Near Kelowna, crews reported no significant movement on the 210-square-kilometre Okanagan Mountain Park fire that torched over 200 homes in the Mission suburb, in the south of the city.

    At one point, the inferno forced the evacuation of nearly 30,000 people, or a third of the city's population.

    There was also no significant growth on the 33-square- kilometre fire burning near Vaseux Lake, south of Kelowna, the B.C. Forest Service said in a statement.

    Near Kamloops, the 260-square-kilometre McLure-Barriere fire, which razed the small community of McLure north of the city, was 95 per cent contained, said Donna MacPherson, a B.C. Forest Service information officer.

    But hot, dry weather is still forecast for the next week in British Columbia, prompting fire officials to make plans to battle wildfires well into September, said fire information officer Kevin Matuga.

    "With that in mind it's not going to change our conditions that drastically and we're expecting the conditions that we have to carry on into the middle of September," he said.

    Manitoba firefighters, along with air force and navy units from Edmonton, will be joining B.C. crews on the front lines this week.

    More than 2,000 Canadian Forces personnel are now in B.C. to help in the firefighting effort as part of Canada's second largest military operation after the forces' presence in Afghanistan.

    The Canadian Press, 2003

    09/4/2003 2:02 EST
    September 11th - Never Forget

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

    Honorary Flatlander


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