CAROL HARRINGTON

KELOWNA, B.C. (CP) - Some residents forced to flee their homes from B.C. wildfires are returning home to discover their possessions were pilfered.

Thieves have also stolen vehicles and boats from evacuees, and there were even reports of people pocketing money from yellow ribbons sold for a fundraising program, instead of giving it to the Red Cross. Kelowna resident Pam Glendinning said she was "just sick" after thieves took her irreplaceable antique motor boat when she and her husband fled from the fire.

They had locked it in a Kelowna business compound.

"My knees are weak, I'm just shaking," Glendinning said of someone having "the gall" to take her 1969 Century ski boat while she was a fire evacuee.

"I'm just so upset."

Patrick Ghostkeeper was disheartened to discover that his Kamloops-area home was looted when he returned home last Sunday after a fire evacuation order was lifted.

"You're so happy that evacuees can go back, then you find another disaster in your own home," Ghostkeeper said after his computer, VCR, stereo and telephone were stolen.

"How low can a person go - looting from an evacuee?" he asked. "It just makes me sick to my stomach."

RCMP are warning Kelowna residents that thieves are scamming a fundraising evacuee program by selling yellow ribbons and pocketing the money instead of giving it to the Red Cross.

"Certainly in any tragedy the best in people is brought out as well as the worst," said Kelowna RCMP Const. Heather Macdonald.

"The people who might approach you on the street are not associated with this campaign."

So far, one Kelowna evacuee reported last Monday that a home near Okanagan Lake was looted of electronic equipment while it was empty due to the fire.

RCMP also received a complaint from an evacuee who said his vehicle was stolen last weekend from the home he fled from the fire.

Glendinning said the thieves who stole her boat were likely professionals, as they cut a hole through a chain-link fence, bypassed a security system and moved a car blocking the boat's path to the hole.

"People are really worried if they are going to have a home to go back to and now they are finding their possessions stolen," she said.

So far, about one-third of Kelowna's evacuees have returned home.

Nearly 250 houses were destroyed or damaged in the blaze.

Walter Gray, mayor of this city of 96,000 residents, said he suspected that, once other evacuees are allowed to go home, they will also discover they have been robbed.

"This kind of thing just makes me sick," Gray said. "I can't imagine what would be going through someone's head when they take such pathetic advantage of their fellow man.

"Talk about kicking people when they are already down," he added.

Since 30,000 Kelowna residents were evacuated last Friday by the fire, police have received complaints of 13 home break and enters, 59 vehicle thefts and stolen property from 22 vehicles.

RCMP weren't able to say if any of the statistics were related to the evacuation.

The Canadian Press, 2003

08/26/2003 20:21 EST