B.C. firefighters face more hot, dry weather in effort to contain blazes

CAROL HARRINGTON

KAMLOOPS, B.C. (CP) - Firefighters trying to contain a series of blazes ravaging southern British Columbia got more bad news from forecasters Monday - continued unseasonably hot, dry weather.

Temperatures in the Kamloops area were expected to reach 30 degrees again Monday, with winds of 20 kilometres an hour. But it could get as hot as 34 degrees later in the week, according to Environment Canada.

Besides the fires themselves, the parched conditions are the main enemy for the hundreds of firefighters battling three major fires around Kamloops that have burned more than 100 square kilometres of tinder-dry forest and grassland.

More than 10,000 people have been forced from their homes in small towns north of Kamloops, as well as the suburb of Rayleigh just north of this city of 77,000, and around Falkand, about 100 kilometres southeast in the Okanagan.

Thermal images revealed Sunday that the fires were continuing to grow despite constant aerial bombing with fire retardant by a fleet of 37 aircraft and relentless attack by ground-based firefighters.

The army fighting the blazes is getting support from across Canada, including a contingent of soldiers from Edmonton.

The Vancouver Fire Department said Monday it had agreed to send a fire engine and crew to the Kamloops area, while two volunteer fire crews from suburban Maple Ridge were also heading to the B.C. Interior.

About 1,800 firefighters were battling more than 350 blazes across the province. The largest, the 150-square-kilometre Chilko fire in north-central British Columbia does not threaten any major communities.

Estimates Sunday put the McLure-Barriere fire, about 50 kilometres north of Kamloops, at about 84 square kilometres, an increase of 30 per cent from Saturday.

The Strawberry Hill fire, which threatens the Kamloops suburb of Rayleigh, grew to about 34 square kilometres from 20 square kilometres.

And the Cedar Hill blaze, southeast of Kamloops near Falkland, was 12 kilometres away from Armstrong, a community on evacuation alert, and is about 8.4 square kilometres in size.

Some residents on the west side of the North Thompson River near McLure and at Little Fort, north of Barriere, were allowed to return home Sunday but told to stay on alert to flee again if conditions changed.

In southwestern Alberta, clouds and light showers Sunday helped crews working to contain an out-of-control fire in the Crowsnest Pass region near the B.C. border. Monday dawned with overcast skies and cooler temperatures.

But almost 2,000 people from the towns of Hillcrest and Blairmore remained out of their homes as the Lost Creek fire continued to threaten the mountain communities.

B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell, who declared a state of emergency around Kamloops on Friday and extended it to the whole province Saturday, was being briefed regularly by telephone. An aide said Sunday the premier would visit the Kamloops region this week.

Campbell spoke to Prime Minister Jean Chretien on Sunday about federal disaster aide but specific help would wait until detailed estimates of the impact of the fires could be prepared.

A spokesman for Defence Minister John McCallum said Sunday

aide would be considered under Ottawa's disaster financial-assistance program.

RCMP, reinforced by Mounties from the Vancouver area and elsewhere, were patrolling the evacuated areas and manning checkpoints on many closed roads. Residents who had been returning to check on their homes were being turned back, police said.

The Canadian Press, 2003

08/4/2003 12:23 EST