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Thousands flee western Canadian wildfires

EMERGENCY crews battled rugged terrain yesterday to contain two large wildfires that have forced thousands of residents of a western Canadian community to flee their homes.

Wind and dry conditions were fueling the large blazes that broke out Saturday in the hills along Okanagan Lake west of the city of Kelowna, British Columbia where housing subdivisions have encroached on the surrounding forest in recent years.

"The winds are definitely adding to the fire activity," said Elise Riedlinger, a spokeswoman for the British Columbia Forest Service, which has not estimated when the fires can be brought under control.

No injuries or deaths were reported, but as many as nine buildings are feared to have been destroyed.

Crews were able to protect a large sawmill complex that had been threatened, according to local media.

About 17,000 people have been told to either leave their homes or be ready to evacuate on a moment's notice if asked to do so by emergency officials.

The Glenrosa fire, which was the first to erupt on Saturday, had grown to 864.5 acres (350 hectares), while the Rose Valley Dam fire, which broke out a few kilometers (miles) to the north had grown to 370.5 acres (150 hectares), Riedlinger said.

A third fire northwest of Kelowna was also burning out of control, but did not threaten any populated areas. Kelowna, in south-central British Columbia, is about a 248 miles (400 km) drive east of Vancouver.

Police said the cause of fires was under investigation, but the provincial fire service said they did not believe them to be related.

Helicopters and aircraft dropped water and fire retardant on flames to back up the more than 200 firefighters working on the ground.

Adding fuel to the fire were trees that have died in recent years because of an infestation of mountain pine beetles.

Emergency officials were dealing with the situation using plans developed after the Kelowna area was struck by massive wildfires that destroyed more than 200 homes in 2003.


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