More B.C. residents displaced by wildfires told they can go home
KAMLOOPS, B.C. (CP) - More evacuation orders were eased Tuesday as B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell prepared to tour the southern B.C. Interior regions devastated by wildfires.
About 250 residents of the Cedar Hills area near Falkland, southeast of Kamloops, were told they could return home, said Joel Schaeffer of the provincial emergency program.
Like the 2,800 residents of the Kamloops suburbs of Rayleigh and Heffley Creek, Cedar Hills homeowners were told to stay on alert to move if the fire threatens again.
"They must be ready to evacuate if an order is again issued immediately," said Schaeffer.
At the peak on Sunday, more than 10,000 people had fled their homes from fires near Falkland, Rayleigh, McLure and Barriere.
The McLure-Barriere blaze destroyed dozens of homes and several businesses, including a sawmill at Louis Creek.
Campbell, who will be accompanied on his tour by Solicitor General Rich Coleman and Forests Minister Mike de Jong, declared a state of emergency for the region Friday. He extended it Saturday to cover all of British Columbia as the province dealt with more than 300 fires.
"I've been waiting for officials to tell me I won't be getting in the way," said Campbell. "I think it's very important I get a chance to meet with the folks and talk with them."
Campbell spoke with Prime Minister Jean Chretien on the weekend about getting federal disaster aid.
"We've notified Ottawa that we think we will be coming to them for some assistance," he said. "We've also been very clear with them we can't even start to begin to estimate that's on the ground until we can actually get in and assess that."
Heffley Creek and Rayleigh residents returned to homes overlooking charred forests and mountainsides with the stench of smoke still in their houses.
"It sticks to your clothes," said Joe Veira, adding his first impulse was to water his garden.
While some residents nearer Kamloops and Falkland went home, only a few people from the communites further north got the green light.
Many evacuees expressed frustration about the lack of information about their homes, especially with police restricting access for those anxious to see if their homes are still standing.
"I understand why people are going through that," Campbell said. "But you don't want to start distracting people from taking care of the fires and making sure they are safe.
"So I would say to those people: I understand your concern, I know how you must long to find out what's going on."
Fire officials said the blazes remained relatively stable overnight, thanks to cooler temperatures and little wind.
The McLure-Barriere blaze was about 100 square kilometres while the Cedar Hills fire was about 14 square kilometres and Strawberry Hill fire threatening Rayleigh was about 35 square kilometres.
About 2,000 firefighters were battling blazes across British Columbia, reinforced by crews from other provinces, a fleet of 37 aircraft and about 100 soldiers.
Neighbouring Alberta was fighting its own battle, with almost 2,000 people forced out of Blairmore and Hillcrest in the Crowsnest Pass area near the southern B.C. border.
British Columbia and Alberta are the worst hit during the summer's scorching fire season that has left thousands without a home.
Alberta Premier Ralph Klein and cabinet ministers Mike Cardinal and Dave Coutts toured the Crowsnest Pass area Monday.
Meanwhile, fire crews from B.C. were joining the effort to battle a blaze in neighbouring Washington state, just south of Keremeos, B.C.
The Farewell Creek fire, which has been burning since June 29, has been threatening to cross into Canada.
The Canadian Press, 2003
08/5/2003 13:44 EST