TIFFANY CRAWFORD

KELOWNA, B.C. (CP) - As an aggressive fire moved closer, emergency officials knocked on the doors of more than 1,000 suburban homes in this Okanagan city Thursday night and told residents to leave.

The southeast Kelowna suburbs, including Okaview, Kettle Valley and Uplands, had been on evacuation alert since earlier in the week, their residents put on edge by the mushrooming Okanagan Mountain Park fire, which had grown to 130 square kilometres since Wednesday.

The homes "are not in immediate danger, but, from a fire behaviour standpoint, we have the fire acting aggressively and it has crossed over (one residential area's) fire guard," Darron Campbell, a fire information officer, said Thursday night.

People were being directed to two different emergency reception areas in the centre of Kelowna, he said.

The fire had reduced much of Okanagan Mountain Park to ash by Thursday and huge balls of ash and sparks were seen raining down on yards in the neighbouring community of Naramata, whose 1,000 residents were still on evacuation alert.

The fire had grown to 130 square kilometres by Thursday, up from 110 square kilometres Wednesday. On Tuesday it measured just 20 square kilometres.

Part of the growth was due to a controlled burnoff to try and deny bone-dry fuel to the fire, said fire officials.

About 110 firefighters and 11 helicopters were working to control the blaze that has so far consumed most of the park.

A fleet of 50 bulldozers and other pieces of heavy equipment were racing to build a fire guard around the blaze.

The Okanagan Mountain park blaze is just one of a half-dozen major fires threatening southern B.C. communities, where more than 3,000 firefighters, including hundreds of Canadian soldiers, are battling the flames.

It's been a record year for potentially home-wrecking fires, said Kevin Matuga, a fire information officer for the B.C. Forest Service.

"It is unusual for us to have more than one major interface fire in a season," he said Thursday, referring to the type of wildfire that encroaches on communities.

"This year we have had seven major interface fires in the Kamloops fire centre alone."

So far, B.C. air tankers have dumped more than 34 million litres of retardant and water to stop those blazes from spreading, compared with only two million litres last year, he said.

"We are doing everything we can and we are ensuring to the best of our ability the safety of the public," Matuga said.

Thousands of southern Interior residents remained out of their homes as hot, dry weather and high winds fanned the flames of about 850 fires burning across British Columbia, almost half in the Kamloops area alone.

-Near Kamloops, the half-contained McLure-Barriere fire was about 250 square kilometres on Thursday, fought by almost 1,000 firefighters and 12 helicopters;

-East of Kamloops, the McGillvray fire near Chase had grown to about 69 square kilometres, fanned by unfavourable winds, and was only 20 per cent contained. About 850 people remain out of their homes and another 2,600 on evacuation alert.

-West of Kamloops, the Venables Valley fire near Ashcroft remained relatively stable at about 62 square kilometres.

-In the Kootenay region, the Ingersol fire near Nelson, remained relatively stable at about 16 square kilometres.

-About 858 U.S. firefighters and 150 Canadians were battling the Togo wildfire fire in Washington state near the B.C. border, slowing its advance towards Grand Forks, B.C.

The fire crisis prompted the B.C. government to declare a state of emergency Aug. 2 and issue a voluntary travel advisory asking people to avoid the southern B.C. backcountry.

The Canadian Press, 2003

08/22/2003 0:08 EST