Huge fire impacts 10,000 in Kelowna, B.C.
Published Monday, July 20, 2009 11:34AM PDT
A huge forest fire has forced the evacuation of 10,000 people from 4,000 homes in a residential neighbourhood on the west side of Kelowna, B.C.
The B.C. Ministry of Forests said the fire had spread across 200 hectares by late Saturday, threatening an area formerly known as Westbank, which is home to 30,000 people and reminding them of the massive blaze that hit the Okanagan area in the hot summer of 2003.
Whipped up by high winds, the latest fire broke out at about 3:00 p.m., close to the Glenrosa neighbourhood of West Kelowna in the vicinity of a Gorman Brothers lumber mill.
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"People were in tears after being told that they couldn't return to their homes,'' said Charmaine de Silva, a reporter with 1150 News Talk in Kelowna.
The cause is still under investigation, according to the Ministry of Forests. But the fire spread quickly enough to prompt the British Columbia Hydro & Power Authority to cut off power to 4,000 residents.
International Trade Minister Stockwell Day represents the west Kelowna constituency where the fire is raging and he's getting briefings from emergency crews.
Day says he can smell the smoke and see the flames, and the highway leading out of the area is jammed with people taking pictures and trying get out.
At least nine houses have so far been incinerated by the fire, which jumped across Highway 97, the main transportation corridor in B.C.'s Okanagan area. A large section of the highway between Peachland and the junction of Westside Road was closed to traffic on Saturday.
On Saturday evening, the B.C. Forest Fire Service said the blaze was heading east towards Okanagan Lake.
Joe Ryan lives across Okanagan Lake from the fire scene, but he says ash is falling onto his deck and the air is choked with smoke.
Related links: B.C. Forest Service wildfire situation
"It looked pretty bad,'' said Richard Mosher, a pilot who flew over the area on Saturday afternoon. He noticed through the heavy smoke that at least a couple of homes were engulfed in flames.
Mosher said dozens of boaters could be seen on Saturday making their way across Okanagan Lake to get a better look.
News of the fire comes nearly six years after Kelowna was hit by a massive wildfire in 2003 which destroyed 239 homes, forcing 45,000 residents to evacuate. At that time, the heat was so intense that some homes literally exploded.
At least 45 firefighters, six helicopters, and eight airtanks were engaged in fighting the lastest fire on Saturday. Another 40 firefighters were reported to be on their way to the area.
With files from The Canadian Press