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Wildfire Forces Evacuation of 30,000 in Western Canada


A devastating wildfire in western Canada has destroyed more than 200 homes in the city of Kelowna. About 30,000 people, which is almost a third of the population has been evacuated.

The out-of-control fire is estimated to be over 19,000 hectares in size. Fueled by a summer drought and dry winds, the city of 100,000 has seen a large number of high priced homes go up in flames.

Kelowna's main sports arena, schools, and churches have become emergency shelters for the evacuees. Thousands more have been put on evacuation alert.

The fire is described as having flames shoot up to one 120 meters high and at one point was advancing over 100 meters a minute.

Steve Bachop, an information officer with the provincial British Columbia Fire Service, says this fire is the worst in recent memory for the area.

"Certainly, the Okanagan Mountain fire was displaying fire behavior that we haven't seen in a long, long time in B.C. (British Columbia)," he said. "And it's added to the complexity that it's burning so close to populated areas."

The blaze has already destroyed a nearby provincial park and covered the city, about 380 kilometers east of Vancouver, with smoke and ash. It is believed lightening started the fire.

Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien is scheduled to visit the area Sunday. It is expected that he will pledge federal assistance to help in the relief effort.

The fire is one of over 800 that are burning across British Columbia in recent months. Three thousand 600 firefighters and Canadian soldiers are attempting to control the flames.

Military commanders have been calling up reserves, who are getting quick instructions on firefighting before joining existing fire crews. It is the largest military peacetime deployment in the region in over 50 years.

Here in Vancouver, dry weather has created conditions that a similar fire could easily erupt. To prevent any more destruction, authorities have shut down many popular urban trails and banned smoking in city parks.

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