Firefighters battle Canadian blazes

Emergency crews battling the worst fire season in British Columbia for 50 years said on Sunday they were making progress against blazes that have forced about 8,500 people to flee.

    Thousands have fled as wildfires devastate tinder-dry forests

    Winds that had fuelled the large fires near Kamloops, about 275 km northeast of Vancouver, have died down somewhat. But heavy smoke hampered efforts to get firefighters into some areas and prevented aircraft from surveying the damage, officials said.

    The province's premier, Gordon Campbell, has put all of British Columbia – about the size of France and Germany combined –  under a state of emergency. Some 80 Canadian military personnel are being brought in to assist more than 700 civilian firefighters already in the Kamloops area.

    Some areas of south-central British Columbia have not seen a major rainfall in several weeks and fire officials say the conditions for wildfires are the worst in recent memory. More than 300 fires are burning across the province, although most are small.

    No rain was forecast until at least the middle of the week.

    Denis Gaudry of the BC Forest Service in Kamloops said lower winds on Saturday and early Sunday allowed crews to "make a good start" against the fires, but he added: "They are not under control."

    Cigarette sparks destruction

    A 8,400-hectare  blaze that was ignited last week by a discarded cigarette threatened two subdivisions in the town of Barriere, about 300 km northeast of Vancouver.

    That fire has already destroyed a sawmill, owned by the Tolko company, in the neighboring hamlet of Louis Creek and 75 homes in the surrounding area, officials said.

    No deaths have been reported so far. But medical officials told local media that a Barriere man was injured after he ignored orders to evacuate and was burned trying to protect a neighbor's house from the flames.

    The neighbouring province of Alberta is also struggling with forest fires. An 18,000-hectare blaze in the Crowsnest Pass area of southwestern Alberta that has forced the evacuation of 1,000 residents near the community of Hillcrest.

    Canadian officials are also keeping a close eye on two wildfires in neighbouring US states - one in Montana and another in Washington - that have threatened to burn over the border.

    SOURCE: Reuters


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