Thousands flee massive wildfire near Kelowna, B.C.
CTV.ca News Staff
Published Saturday, July 18, 2009 11:19PM EDT
Pushed by powerful wind gusts and arid conditions, a massive wildfire forced 5,000 people to flee their homes Saturday near Kelowna, B.C.
The flames first broke out around 3:00 p.m. local time and later destroyed three homes. At least 12 more homes were threatened by the flames Saturday night, according to the BC Forest Service.
The flames were also burning dangerously close to the Gorman Brothers sawmill, which has huge stacks of stored lumber on site.
A massive evacuation in West Kelowna was underway Saturday, snaring traffic along Highway 97, which is a major artery in the area, located in the southern interior region of the province.
By 8 p.m., the fire was burning across 50 hectares in the Glenrosa neighbourhood, which is located on the city's western end, according to the Service.
Fire crews were battling the flames, backed by five choppers and three groups of air tankers, which were dropping fire retardant on the fire, the Service said on its website.
"Our number one priority is to protect life and property," the website message read.
The forecast for this week calls for hot and dry weather, and officials are telling the public to be extra vigilante with fire safety.
The fire's origin is still under investigation.
International Trade Minister Stockwell Day, who is the local MP, said Saturday evening that the area is clogged with the smell of smoke.
He also described massive traffic jams on local roads as residents attempted to get out of the fire's path.
According to Kelowna resident Joe Ryan, ash and soot had begun falling on his deck during the evening hours, despite the fact that he lives across the lake, several kilometres away from the fire's centre.
About 30,000 people live in West Kelowna, which has been locked in an arid heat wave recently.
Saturday's flames have dredged up grim memories for locals, who lived through destructive blazes six years ago which ripped through 200 homes and burned 250 square kilometres worth of land.
With files from The Canadian Press