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Last Updated: Saturday, 23 August, 2003, 21:32 GMT 22:32 UK
Thousands flee Canada fire
Residents watch the approaching flames in Kelowna
Everything in the fire's path has been reduced to ash, say witnesses
Forest fires in the British Columbian town of Kelowna have led to the evacuation of 30,000 people, say officials.

The Okanagan Mountain forest fire - moving at 100 metres per minute and with 120-metre (400-foot) high flames - has destroyed at least 200 houses, although no casualties have been reported.

"We got hammered pretty good... those homes aren't half gone, they're flat," Kelowna Fire Chief Gerry Zimmer said.

Police with megaphones had driven around neighbourhoods in the city of 100,000 on Friday urging people to leave the area.

We were right along people's streets with hoses and fire trucks battling from one house after another
Captain Dale MacPherson

Some buildings had exploded in the intense heat, said witnesses.

"We were right along people's streets with hoses and fire trucks battling from one house after another," said Captain Dale MacPherson, one of hundreds of Canadian soldiers fighting the fire.

"Unfortunately a lot of houses were lost, but I can honestly say that there are houses up there that are standing because of the work my soldiers did last night."

The fire began on 16 August with a lightning strike in the mountains about 300 kilometres (185 miles) east of Vancouver.

'Endless' fire

British Columbia which has suffered from the worst forest fires in decades has been under a state of emergency since the beginning of August.

British Colombia Premier Gordon Campbell said the fires seemed "endless" from the air.

He said lack of rain was the foremost factor in the region's battle against the fire epidemic.

Kelowna, Canada
"This is the driest year we've ever had. The last time that we had a year this dry was 1929," he added.

Canada's Okanagan region is home to the region's wine industry.

Fires are ravaging vineyards and have forced the closure of at least one winery, reports say.

Timber companies have been forced to withdraw their logging crews, driving up lumber prices up on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.

More than 3,000 firefighters are continuing to contain 800 fires over 1,600 square kilometres (630 square miles) of forest in British Columbia since they began on 1 April.

The BBC's Candice Talberg
"30,000 people have been evacuated from their homes"

Despair of Canada fire evacuees
05 Aug 03  |  Americas
Canada blazes send smoke south
08 Jul 02  |  Americas
Country profile: Canada
10 May 03  |  Country profiles

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