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More B.C. residents forced out by wildfires

By: Beth Leighton, The Canadian Press

 | Jul 18, 2014 - 2:57 PM |
A RCMP officer puts up police tape as flames from a forest fire are seen burning on a hillside in West Kelowna, B.C., early Friday, July, 18, 2014. Over 2500 residents of the area were evacuated when the fire suddenly grew in size threatening nearby homes. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

A RCMP officer puts up police tape as flames from a forest fire are seen burning on a hillside in West Kelowna, B.C., early Friday, July, 18, 2014. Over 2500 residents of the area were evacuated when the fire suddenly grew in size threatening nearby homes. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

VANCOUVER - Firefighting resources are being juggled and reassigned as British Columbia's Wildfire Management Branch handles several blazes, including one that forced about 2,500 people from their homes.

The Smith Creek fire near West Kelowna raged to an estimated 2.5 square kilometres Friday, a day after an evacuation order was issued for the nearly 1,100 homes in its potential path.

Kayla Pepper of the Wildfire Management Branch said flames could be seen on a hillside covered by grass and trees. She said the cause of the fire that was 20 per cent contained was not known, but there was no lightning in the area at the time the fire started.

Operations centre spokesman Bruce Smith said 12 aircraft, 11 ground crew from the province's Wildfire Management Branch, as well as firefighters from around the region were battling the flames.

An emergency reception centre was also moved from a local church to a secondary school, he said.

Premier Christy Clark, who represents Westside-Kelowna, said she is monitoring the situation and will head to the area as soon as possible.

Clark also thanked first responders for keeping people and their property safe.

"Our community is strong and will come together to ensure our friends and neighbours have the support they need in this difficult time," she said in a statement.

Dawn Sutton said she was forced to leave her home with her dog, insurance papers and some personal belongings. She went to a friend's house and is worried about losing her own home.

"Of course I'm worried. Am I going to have a house?" she said.

"It's scary, but, you know, I mean lives are more important," she said. "A house can be rebuilt. That's the way I look at it."

Area residents, including the Westbank First Nation and those in Peachland and West Kelowna are being advised to prepare themselves to be self-sustaining for several days.

An extended loss of electricity means residents would need to have enough water for each member of their family, the regional district said.

The fire is burning within 100 metres of the main feeder power line that services Peachland, Westbank and West Kelowna, the district said. But information officer Tracy Wynnyk of the Wildfire Management Branch said crews have managed to keep the blaze away.

"Overnight, with the efforts of the firefighters and the equipment, they've established some good guards and the fire actually has been moving way from the power lines, so at this point in time, things are looking fairly positive there," she said in a phone interview.

The forecast for the Kelowna area calls for sun, clouds and southwest winds gusting up to 40 kilometres an hour.

"What I understand is we're going to continue with temperatures in the upper 20s into low 30s, depending on where you're at, and of course high temperatures and the possibility of winds is a bit of a concern," Wynnyk said.

Just hours after the Smith Creek evacuation order was posted Thursday night, 120 residents of a small community in the Fraser Canyon, 260 kilometres northeast of Vancouver, were also being told to get out of their homes.

The Botanie Road fire is threatening an area just north of Lytton, on the north side of the Thompson River, and an evacuation alert has also been served on several properties between Botanie Creek and Highway 12.

Crews are also working on a three-hectare wildfire sparked Thursday morning on the south side of the Harrison River, four kilometres west of Harrison Hot Springs in the Fraser Valley.

By Friday, the human-caused blaze was listed as 40 per cent contained, although it is still threatening BC Hydro lines in the area 120 kilometres east of Vancouver.

Twenty-three firefighters and one helicopter remain active on the blaze.

The Wildfire Management Branch says more than 160 fires are burning across British Columbia, including 17 major fires, about a dozen of which threaten homes or outbuildings.

Smoke from the fires is covering several communities in the province.

Environment Canada and B.C.'s Environment Ministry have issued advisories and a special air quality statement for many parts of the central Interior, from the Cariboo, just south of Prince George, south to the U.S. border.

The advisories warn smoke concentrations will vary widely due to fire, wind and temperature changes, but everyone in the affected regions is urged to avoid strenuous outdoor activities while people with chronic conditions are advised to stay inside.

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