August 3, 2009 in Nation/World, Region

British Columbia on wildfire alert

Jeremy Hainsworth Associated Press
Associated Press photo

A wildfire burns on Terrace Mountain north of Kelowna, B.C., Canada on Monday, Aug. 3, 2009. Approximately 2,500 residents living along Lake Okanagan spent a second night out of their homes because of the rapidly growing fire.
(Full-size photo)

VANCOUVER, B.C. — Almost 3,000 people have been evacuated since Sunday and 85 percent of British Columbia remains on high alert as lighting strikes and tinder-dry forests continue to fuel wildfires on Canada’s Pacific coast.

British Columbia Forest Service spokeswoman Alyson Couch said Monday conditions remain hot and dry. She said extra firefighters from across Canada, and some for Australia, are joining those already in the forests.

Couch said people have been asked to stay out of the backcountry to cut the risk of human-caused blazes. There is currently a ban on campfires and open burning across British Columbia.

The fires had caused a drop in tourist numbers two weeks ago but things are returning to normal, said Catherine Frechette, a tourism spokeswoman in the worst hit region.

From April to now, 2,200 fires have torched 170,171 acres compared to 1,066 that burned 27,170 acres last year.

Provincial Premier Gordon Campbell says the wildfire risk is at the highest level in recent memory. The province has endured a heat wave for several weeks.

Most fires are being caused by lightning strikes, Couch said.

It could be at least Wednesday before firefighters can expect any reprieve from the weather with some rain forecast.

On Monday, there were 33 “wildfires of note” burning throughout the province.

Many of them left nearby residents on evacuation alerts.

In the town of Lillooet, 2,500 people were forced from their homes as a fire raged less than a mile away.

Another 120 in nearby Brooksmere were also evacuated.

The evacuations come two weeks after 11,000 were forced to flee their homes near West Kelowna.

In 2003, lightning strikes near Kelowna triggered a fire that scorched 96 square miles, destroyed more than 200 homes and caused millions of dollars in property damage.

Current weather conditions are similar to those during the 2003 disaster.

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