CAROL HARRINGTON

KAMLOOPS, B.C. (CP) - Tammy Wudrich said Sunday it was "disturbingly eerie" to see most of her village of Louis Creek charred and smouldering after a wildfire ravaged the small B.C. forestry town.

Power lines have turned into silver pools of melted metal, the once-thriving sawmill is just a smoking skeleton and telephone poles are black, like dead soldiers lying in the ashes.

The community, a few kilometres south of Barriere, B.C., was like a ghost town when she returned briefly to visit, said Wudrich.

"No one was there, not even police," she said.

The little village was overwhelmed by a fast-moving fire that stated Wednesday and had grown to 84 square kilometres by Sunday morning.

"It was creepy and unreal," said Wudrich, 20, after returning Saturday to find that her home trailer had burned to the ground. The only identifiable object left was her baby's plastic toy melted in the swimming pool.

"I broke down crying as soon as I saw my trailer," she said. "I don't want to go back. It's hard to believe this is happening."

Many of the 10,000 people who were forced out of their homes in southern British Columbia by an unrelenting blaze are having a hard time coming to grips with the fact that they no longer have homes to go back to.

"I had a breakdown, I didn't take it very well," Linda Reusse said Sunday just minutes after discovering that her house was also torched in the blaze.

A firefighter friend had confirmed that he saw the home Reusse had lived in for 11 years on an acreage in Louis Creek had burned down.

"This has really upset me," said Reusse, dabbing her teary eyes with a tissue. "I just don't know what to do."

When Reuse was ordered to evacuate last Thursday night, she left behind her 28 chickens and two pet cats, who were scared by the ball of fire roaring down a mountain towards the house and ran away.

Germaine Hartfield knows what it's like to have to abandon a pet.

"We have a horse there we left in the pen," said Hartfield, with tears welling in her eyes as she whispered the name of her horse - "Sam."

Hartfield isn't sure if her three-bedroom house and pool on an acreage in Barriere, about 50 kilometres north of here, is still standing.

"It's surreal," she said. "It's not really real to us until we go home - if we have one left. It's just like a nightmare."

Like many who fled Barriere, Hartfield's husband used to work at the Tolko mill in Louis Creek, a mainstay of the town - until last week. The fate of another mill in Barriere itself is unclear.

Many millworkers are holding onto hope that they can rebuild the Louis Creek mill, but some are skeptical because the lumber industry has been in a slump for the last few years.

Some residents are also worried that if their homes are still standing, they may have been looted or vandalized.

"Someone may have broken in and who knows what you have to come home to," said Penny Hardy, who has a mobile home on leased land at Paul Lake.

Like many others, Hardy isn't sure if her home has been torched. Rumours have been flying as fast as the wildfires, but she is trying not to believe them until she sees with her own eyes.

Her 11-year-old son, Stephen, said he's scared "big time" about his two pet cats, Simon and Gizmo, which were left behind.

But mostly he's worried about his prized stuffed bear that he got from his school for being a good student.

When his family fled, fires were quickly roaring toward the lake and Simon was in a panic. He simply didn't have time to drag anything with him but the clothes on his back.

The Canadian Press, 2003

08/3/2003 21:42 EST