KAMLOOPS, B.C. (CP) - A helicopter fighting the raging forest fires in the B.C. Interior crashed Sunday afternoon.

The forestry helicopter went down about 80 kilometres east of 100 Mile House while fighting the Bonaparte Lake fire, north of Kamloops. "It had one person on board, there are firefighters and emergency staff on scene at this time," Cpl. Wayne Kennedy of Victoria search and rescue reported. The condition of the pilot was not immediately known, he said.

Meanwhile, as many as 500 people were forced from their homes east of Chase during the weekend after the McGillivray fire in the Niskonlith Lake area grew slightly Saturday night to just over 12-square-kilometres.

That change expanded an evacuation order in place since Saturday afternoon, said fire information officer Jim McBride.

"If the fire were to expand and cross the South Thompson river then there is a concern for the 2,600 village of Chase residents," he said. Chase is about 50 kilometres east of Kamloops.

Meanwhile, about 450 people living north of Barriere were allowed to go home Sunday, though an evacuation alert remains in effect.

The McLure-Barriere fire blazing near there remained at about 200-square-kilometres and was about 40 per cent contained on Sunday, the B.C. Forest Service said.

About 730 residents remain evacuated in the past few days from the Interior B.C. area which has had fires burning in the surrounding communities for weeks and hot, dry weather.

"The winds are having their way with these fires and it's causing us a lot of problems," said fire information officer Kevin Matuga. "We're doing our best but Mother Nature is leading the cause on this one."

Firefighters were also battling two wildfires, one north of Chute Lake, the other in Okanagan Mountain Parkan, south of Kelowna on Sunday.

Ten families have so far been evacuated due to the Okanagan Mountain Park fire over the weekend, the B.C. Forest Service said.

An Armstrong man missing for almost eight years was also identified as the murder victim whose remains were discovered near Falkland on Saturday.

Police say the remains were those of Mathew Hobbs, who was 18 when he was reported missing on Oct. 25, 1995.

Hobbs' remains were discovered by a firefighter working a blaze in the Cedar Hills area near Falkland on Aug. 10.

"We're treating this case as a homicide, and presently have eight investigators working on it," said RCMP Staff-Sgt. Kerry Solinsky.

The Canadian Press, 2003

08/17/2003 19:08 EST