Wildfire Ousts 30,000 In Canada

Residents watch the approaching flames in Kelowna, B.C. on Friday Aug. 22, 2003. Police with bullhorns ordered a staggering 20,000 people from their homes in the southern suburbs of this Okanagan city Friday night as fast-moving flames moved closer.
AP
Towering flames shooting up 400 feet forced more than 20,000 residents from their homes as a fast-moving forest fire rampaged past orchards and vineyards and licked at the outskirts of this western Canadian city.

The new evacuees on Friday night joined almost 10,000 others who were forced from their homes in the outer suburbs of Kelowna, 170 miles east of Vancouver, Thursday night. Another 11,000 in this city of 100,000 remain on evacuation alert.

Police with bullhorns moved through neighborhoods urging people to leave as the 42,000-acre fire gained ground. Some residents had less than two-hours notice to evacuate.

Officials could not say late Friday night how many more buildings had been lost on top of the 15 consumed by advancing flames which jumped a fireguard overnight Thursday.

"We're not out of the woods yet," said Kelowna Fire Department Lt. Peter Cole. "The dragon's just woke up. We're pretty apprehensive right now because it's starting to get closer to higher density buildings."

Karen Cairns, information officer for the Regional District of Central Okanagan, said flames were being fanned by 45 mph winds.

The flames have been fueled by tinder dry conditions due to below average rainfall this year. High winds coupled with lightning storms have worsened the situation.

Assistant Manager Rick Dyer of radio station SILK-KM in Kelowna told CBS News, Radio, "It's so dry here trees are literally exploding."

Rain is forecast for Sunday.

More than 100 firefighters armed with 11 helicopters and 50 bulldozers are battling the fire.

The cost of fighting the almost 900 blazes that have plagued British Columbia this year now tops 106 million U.S. dollars. More than 5,000 firefighters, including 1,740 soldiers, are taking on a half-dozen major fires threatening southern British Columbia communities. Four hundred more are expected to join the fight soon.

In the U.S., National Guard troops were ready to help firefighters in Oregon Saturday in their battle against wildfires burning in a national forest and threatening a tiny mountain community.

Gov. Ted Kulongoski declared a state of emergency Friday allowing the troops to help firefighters.

But crews in Oregon took advantage of cool, damp weather Saturday to fortify defenses for the resort town of Camp Sherman and Black Butte Ranch, a nearby golf resort community, before the return of dry weather.

The 300 or so residents of Camp Sherman were evacuated on Thursday but were told they could return for three hours Sunday to collect essentials that may have been left behind.

Camp Sherman is about four miles from a group of fires that had charred 24,000 acre in three days in the Deschutes National Forest of central Oregon. The blaze had destroyed eight cabins and an auditorium at a campground near Round Lake, along with outbuildings near the Hoodoo Ski Area.

Rain fell over much of western Montana Saturday, clearing the sky of smoke and bringing relief to thousands of firefighters trying to control blazes that have blackened more than 400,000 acres.

"It's going to give the fire crews a breather," said Susan Rinehart, information officer for the Northern Rockies Coordination Group. "You still have very serious dry fuels out there."

Some parts of western Montana received more than half an inch of rain from late Friday into early Saturday, the state's first significant rainfall in a month.

In the Missoula area, which is virtually surrounded by fires, the rain helped clear smoke that had been sending people to hospitals.

The Forest Service said it has spent more than $100 million fighting dozens of fires in Montana this summer. A number of blazes in eastern and central Montana have been contained, including a 38,000-acre fire near Billings.

In western Wyoming, crews aided by water-dropping helicopters made headway Saturday against a 14,500-acre blaze in Shoshone National Forest, about 25 miles southwest of Cody. Crews worked to keep the fire away from several homes and dude ranches on the south fork of the Shoshone River, but no evacuations were ordered.

Officials in northwestern Wyoming hoped to complete firebreaks ahead of two blazes to keep them from leaving Yellowstone National Park and threatening private property.

The fires, which together had burned 20,500 acres in eastern Yellowstone, were 25 percent contained, information officer Greg Thayer said.

In Washington, crews were fighting a 5,000-acre wildfire in the eastern part of the state about a half-mile from the Canadian border. Canadian firefighters were protecting 61 homes threatened by the blaze. None of the homes was in immediate danger of burning, authorities said.