Mon, Aug 03, 2009 - Page 7 News List

Hundreds of forest wildfires ravaging British Colombia

AFP AND REUTERS , MONTREAL and VANCOUVER

Thousands of residents in British Columbia were ordered to leave their homes on Saturday as more than 500 fires raged out of control in the state, fueled by dry forests and record-high temperatures.

“Our province is facing the highest levels of wildfire risk in memory,” British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell told the CBC network on Friday.

“Record high temperatures have created a serious situation. They can best be described as tinder dry. The forests across this province are in probably the driest situation they’ve been that any of us can recall,” he said.

Temperatures in some parts of the state have hit over 36˚C for several days running, Environment Canada said.

“Right now, there are 531 forest fires currently burning,” Campbell said.

Evacuation orders have already been issued for some communities, the CBC reported, while an additional 3,000 people were told to be ready to leave their homes. Some 1,500 people were evacuated from their homes in the town of Fintry on Saturday, just two days after being allowed to return.

British Columbia is spending C$3 million (US$2.8 million) a day fighting the blazes, CBC reported.

Extra fire-fighting crews have been called in from across the country and from Australia to back up the 2,500 British Columbia personnel already on duty.

Campbell asked area residents to abstain from entering the forest in order to avoid any risk of either being trapped in a forest fire or accidentally starting a new blaze.

Since April 1 firefighters in British Columbia have responded to 1,817 wildfires that have burned some 51,042 hectares of forests and grasslands, Campbell’s office said. By comparison, at the same point in 2003 there were 959 fires and 31,000 hectares burned, his office said.

A fire sparked by a lightning bolt that struck late on Thursday near the Whistler ski resort, a venue of next year’s Vancouver Winter Olympics, was under control, an organizing committee official said.

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