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Thousands flee fire in British Columbia
( 2003-08-22 14:02) (Agencies)

Officials rushed to evacuate 5,000 people from their homes as a fast-moving forest fire neared the suburbs of Kelowna in southern British Columbia.

Passersby stop at a viewpoint in Summerland, Canada to watch a smoke plume build from the Okanagan Mountain Park forest fire, Aug. 21, 2003. The fire is threatening the city of Kelowna in the north and the town of Naramata, B.C. in the south.  [AP]
The 51-square-mile fire in Okanagan Mountain Park moved closer to Kelowna fed by hot, dry weather and winds. It then jumped a fire break near a residential area, prompting the evacuation.

"It was fast, it was very fast," said Karen Cairns, a regional emergency official. Authorities moved to evacuate homes in southeastern Kelowna suburbs, including Okaview, Kettle Valley and Uplands.

Evacuees were being directed Thursday night to two emergency reception centers set up in downtown Kelowna, a city of about 100,000.

People's homes weren't in immediate danger, but the blaze's movement across the fire break forced the evacuation, said Darron Campbell, a fire information officer.

Ash and sparks fell on the nearby community of Naramata, whose 1,000 residents were also on evacuation alert.

About 110 firefighters and 11 helicopters were working to control the blaze. A fleet of 50 bulldozers and other pieces of heavy equipment were racing to clear a fire break around the blaze.

The Okanagan Mountain park blaze is one of a half-dozen major fires threatening southern British Columbia communities. More than 3,000 firefighters, including hundreds of Canadian soldiers, are battling the flames.

The fires prompted the British Columbia government to declare a state of emergency on Aug. 2 and to issue a travel advisory asking people to avoid the southern British Columbia's backcountry.

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