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30,000 in Canada Flee Fire

August 24, 2003|From Times Wire Services

KELOWNA, Canada — A forest fire with 400-foot-high flames swept regions of western Canada on Saturday, forcing 30,000 people from the suburbs of this city to flee in recent days as some houses exploded from the heat of the blaze.

Police with bullhorns moved through neighborhoods urging people to leave as the 42,000-acre fire advanced toward this city of 100,000 people about 170 miles east of Vancouver.

The fire has destroyed at least 200 homes and possibly up to 300, according to fire officials here. Firefighters have stopped trying to contain the fire and are focusing on protecting homes and other buildings, Capt. Dale MacPherson of the Canadian army said.

Witnesses reported entire suburban subdivisions on fire in the city's southern outskirts late Friday as the flames leaped from building to building, some of which could be seen exploding from the intense heat.

"It's awful. I just can't believe this is happening," Debbie Curylo, 44, a lifelong Kelowna resident, said as she watched the massive orange flames erupting in a forested hillside neighborhood where two of her sisters had houses.

No deaths or major injuries have been reported.

Rain was in the forecast for today, but authorities could not say when they would have the fire under control.

"We're not out of the woods yet," said Lt. Peter Cole of the Kelowna Fire Department. "The dragon's just woke up.

"We're pretty apprehensive right now because it's starting to get closer to higher-density buildings."

Carol Suhan, a spokeswoman for the Fire Department, said authorities have planned for the worst each day and seen it happen.

"The mood is disbelief," she said. "It's a pretty nasty fire today.

"The fire was moving very, very fast today along the south and east perimeters of the city."

No amount of urging was going to persuade Barb Roth to leave her home in the rapidly emptying Mission neighborhood, despite the sight of a house burning just blocks away.

"They threatened to handcuff and drag me out of here," Roth said. "But we're not going to burn here."

As Roth spoke and menacing flames flickered within eyesight, two children splashed in her home's pool.

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