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Thousands Flee Aggressive Fire in Canada

August 22, 2003

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) _ Emergency crews raced door to door Thursday night to move thousands of people from the path of an aggressive forest fire headed toward suburban homes in the province of British Columbia.

``It was fast, it was very fast,″ said Karen Cairns, a regional emergency official, describing how quickly officials moved to evacuate homes in Kelowna, about 170 miles (274 kilometers) east of Vancouver.

As many as 10,000 people were in emergency centers early Friday and another 3,000 to 4,000 people remained on evacuation alert, British Columbia Emergency Services spokeswoman Carol Suhan said.

A sudden shift in the wind swept the Okanagan Mountain forest fire over a guard and into Kelowna, destroying about 25 homes in the city’s east side.

More than 100 firefighters armed with 11 helicopters and 50 bulldozers were tackling the blaze, just one of a half-dozen major fires threatening communities in southern British Columbia.

More than 3,000 firefighters, including hundreds of Canadian soldiers, are battling the flames during the worst fire season in 50 years.

``I guess there is shock right now when the police come to your door and tell you to go,″ said evacuee Jon Carlson, who had arrived at a reception center.

``We feel lucky because we have insurance, but, you know, it’s your home,″ he said. ``It’s a nightmare.″

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

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