CAROL HARRINGTON

KAMLOOPS, B.C. (CP) - Linda Reusse shed tears when she saw pictures of her charred, melted mobile home Wednesday, but it was her black scorched chickens that caused her to shake and sob.

"I've lost everything, just everything," Reusse said of her once-idyllic acreage home destroyed by a wildfire last Friday as it whipped through her village of Louis Creek. "I don't know how we are going to rebuild our lives."

Reusse and dozens of other Louis Creek residents were shown photographs of their burned homes when they met privately with provincial officials. Their seared properties were flashed on computer screens.

About 150 residents of the Louis Creek and Barriere areas, 50 kilometres north of here, gathered at a makeshift evacuation centre in a Kamloops hockey arena so officials could confirm whose houses were destroyed in the wildfire.

As workers painted red circles and blue lines on the ice below, residents who were forced to flee their homes huddled in wooden bleachers to hear details of their destroyed village.

The first and most frequently questioned asked was: "When can we go home?"

But like the last five days since they were evacuated from their homes, there was no definitive answer.

"I hope we'll have an answer today or tomorrow," an emergency alert adviser said. A chorus of moans and sighs filled the air.

An official told a news briefing earlier Wednesday it likely could be weeks before the estimated 3,500 people forced out by the McLure-Barriere fire that engulfed Louis Creek could safely return home.

The blaze grew by about 30 per cent between Tuesday and Wednesday, now measuring 166 square kilometres.

Tammy Wudrich, 20, said she was worried because her burned Louis Creek trailer and all her life possessions were not insured. She is hoping the government will rebuild the home she shared with her boyfriend and their one-year-old baby.

"I'm told that because it was declared a disaster area that we'll get some help," said Wudrich, who only had time to grab her baby, a basket of clothes and some pictures, when the flames descended on the village.

Although officials couldn't say when residents can return home, they said that homeowners likely will first get a one-day permit so they can assess the situation first-hand.

Residents received several cautions: watch for nails on boards, discard bloated canned goods, don't eat food from the refrigerator and treat all water as suspect.

"We don't want another Walkerton to happen," an official said, reminding residents of the tainted water that killed seven people in Walkerton, Ont., three years ago.

They were also warned that the roots of many trees are still burning in the ground and to try not to breathe toxic smoke from things like burning plastic.

"The biggest cause of death from fires is cancer," an official said.

One upset resident sitting in the bleachers accused officials of patronizing the townsfolk.

"You are treating us like we're idiots," he said. "Don't you think we know this stuff? Just because we live in rural areas doesn't mean we aren't intelligent people."

There were several grief counsellors available for those overwhelmed from seeing their charred homes for the first time.

After seeing many of her 28 dead chickens that once produced fresh eggs every morning, Reusse talked with a counsellor for about 30 minutes.

The Canadian Press, 2003

08/6/2003 19:27 EST